WASHINGTON – The U.S. government hopes to take the first formal step in renegotiating NAFTA within the next couple of weeks, setting the stage for formal negotiations with Canada and Mexico later this year.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says he hopes to advise Congress within two weeks of the Trump administration’s intention to renegotiate the quarter-century-old agreement.
That would begin a pre-negotiating consultation process of at least 90 days.
U.S. law says the administration must consult with Congress throughout the process before a deal gets signed if it wants lawmakers to hold a simple yes-or-no vote on a final deal.
But the process could be slowed down by a logjam in Congress.
The Senate and House committees that would be involved in consultations are tied up with controversial health and tax reforms. Meanwhile, the U.S. agency that deals with Congress on trade is understaffed and doesn’t even have a cabinet member confirmed yet.
The process is slightly less formal in Canada. In Canada, there are guidelines requiring different ministers to present memos to cabinet before trade talks. The government is also consulting with the private sector.
But in the U.S. these consultations with lawmakers and private-sector advisers are mandated in detailed legislation.