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Friday, March 1, 2024

NAFTA Third Round Complete


The third round of negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement has come to an end. United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he joins with Minister Freeland of Canada and Secretary Guajardo of Mexico in welcoming the progress that was made to this point.

“I also join them in thanking the six or seven hundred people from our three governments who have been working on this issue. And I think it’s important for everyone to realize just how big this is. This is hundreds and hundreds of pages of very technical, technical work that covers almost the entirety of all of our economies, in one way or another. And there are six or seven hundred people working weekends and very long hours to get to where we are, and they are dedicated to continuing until we get to the end of the process,” Lighthizer stated.

He says the three countries have now closed the chapter on Small- and Medium- sized Enterprises, saying these businesses are the engines that drive each of our economies.

Lighthizer adds that “Additionally, significant progress continues to be made in numerous other areas, including competition policy, digital trade, State Owned Enterprises, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, customs, and telecommunications.” However, he cautions that there is an enormous amount of work to be done, including on some very difficult and contentious issues.

The negotiations are continuing at an unprecedented pace, and the United States looks forward to hosting the next round in Washington, DC in about two weeks.

The American Trucking Associations strongly weighed in on their position regarding the Mexican truck program. Chief Economist and Senior Vice President Robert Costello stated in a Sept. 29 letter to Lighthizer that the trucking lobby supports the Mexican truck program because it has helped reduce congestion at U.S.-Mexico ports of entry.

“Congestion increases without NAFTA’s trucking provisions because trailers often return empty after delivering freight across the border,” he wrote.

“Sometimes ‘Bobtails’ (tractors without trailers) deliver a trailer only one-way across the border and return solo; and, bobtails and empties are also required to be inspected at the port of entry just like loaded trailers.

“The additional unnecessary equipment increases congestion, delays, ‘overhandling’ of shipments, costs, and the potential for lost and damaged freight,” he added. “As the industry looks well into the future, this provision will be more important as trade increases. It would be shortsighted to end the program now,” Costello said.

Some organizations do oppose the program, such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, who have written to Lighthizer saying “notoriously dangerous” Mexican trucks should be prevented from “driving anywhere on U.S. highways.”

In June, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that FMCSA has the ultimate authority to determine whether to continue the program.