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Outlook for NAFTA Revamp Gets Bleaker

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Amid all the rhetoric regarding Section 232, the ongoing renegotiation of NAFTA has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle. Perhaps that’s one reason a self-imposed deadline for a deal came and went last week with no new pact and little fanfare.

Earlier in the year, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan said a renegotiated deal must be delivered to Congress by May 18 to have a chance to be voted on before the midterm elections. Obviously, no agreement has been reached.

For most in the metals supply chain, and the broader marketplace, no news is good news when it comes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Many executives agree the deal could use a little refreshing and modernizing after a quarter century. However, given the way the deal was blasted by Donald Trump during his campaign and into his presidency, the industry isn’t confident that any newly crafted NAFTA would deliver the necessary upgrades to a deal that most executives think has benefitted all three countries.

The Business Roundtable, an association of American CEOs, summarized the general sentiment toward the renegotiation process in advance of the deadline.

“Regardless of whether officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico can meet specific legislative deadlines, modernizing NAFTA in ways that expand, not restrict, trade should be the administration’s primary objective in these negotiations,” the group said in a release. “A NAFTA 2.0 deal should strengthen intellectual property protection, promote e-commerce and digital trade in goods and services, and streamline customs rules to provide greater market access for businesses of all sizes. Proposals that would weaken investor-state or state-to-state dispute settlement mechanisms, implement overly restrictive rules of origin requirements, institute a sunset clause or curtail government procurement opportunities would create uncertainty for U.S. businesses and should be rejected.”

The missed deadline could be significant for reasons beyond simply delaying action. The midterm elections threaten to upset the balance of power in the Beltway, with the House of Representatives more likely to change party control. Such a change would challenge the president’s ability to get congressional support for a radically overhauled NAFTA.

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