U.S. Initiates Internal Talks on Renewing North American Trade Agreement

U.S. 'beginning' internal discussions about renewing North American trade pact

For those haunted by memories of the last NAFTA renegotiation, the idea of revisiting the pact may feel like a classic horror movie sequel: It’s back. However, according to the U.S. envoy to Canada, this time is different.

In a recent interview with CBC News, Ambassador David Cohen stated that informal talks have begun in the U.S. to prepare for new negotiations, as mandated by the pact. As the sixth-anniversary milestone approaches, marking the start of discussions about future changes, Cohen mentioned that internal discussions are underway on the U.S. side.

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Cohen, celebrating his second anniversary in Ottawa, expressed confidence that this round of negotiations would lack the existential drama of the 2017-2018 talks. One key distinction is the Biden administration’s avoidance of suggesting an end to the pact, in contrast to the previous administration’s language.

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Unlike Trump’s team, the current U.S. Trade Representative’s office opts for the term “joint review” instead of the controversial “sunset clause” when describing the process outlined in Article 34.7 of the new NAFTA.

The trade-pact review is set to commence in 2026, requiring countries to meet annually and decide between renewing the agreement or negotiating changes. Cohen emphasized that discussions currently focus on potential improvements rather than dismantling the deal.

While the U.S. has faced setbacks in high-profile disputes, particularly in dairy and automobiles, Cohen suggested that specific U.S. positions are premature for public discussion. The U.S. government is already gathering data for reports on the impact of new automobile rules, with one report due next year and another in 2025.

Reflecting on the mood when he arrived in Canada, Cohen acknowledged a damaged trust between the two countries. However, he noted a positive shift in Canadian attitudes since Biden took office, citing successful resolutions of disputes and diplomatic gestures.

Despite rising tensions in Canadian politics, Cohen remained tight-lipped on next year’s U.S. election, emphasizing his commitment to avoid discussing partisan topics, citing the U.S. Hatch Act.

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