- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2018

The United States risks damaging decades of constructive relationships with its Western Hemisphere allies if it fails to positively renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), leading Inter-American policy makers warned Capitol Hill on Friday.

Although President Trump has regularly blasted NAFTA as a job-killing “disaster” and repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the 24-year-old pact, for months U.S., Canadian and Mexican trade officials have been quietly negotiating new terms for the deal.

Officials are now scrambling to reach an agreement before Mexico’s July 1 presidential election. On Thursday, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said progress has been made on a major sticking point — the U.S. insistence for tougher rules stipulating how much North American content a vehicle must contain to qualify for tariff-free NAFTA access.

On Friday at the U.S. Capitol, more than 30 former ambassadors, trade officials, business leaders, scholars and activists gathered to urge Washington policy makers to think broadly about the long-term ramifications of a NAFTA rework as the trade talks come down the home stretch.

“NAFTA should reflect the modern economies of Canada, Mexico and the United States,” argued a consensus report presented by the Join Global Americans and the Global Ties Foundation, a U.S.-based research institute. “Abandoning an agreement with two of the U.S.’s largest trading partners, or making demands that provoke others to leave, will hurt the millions of Americans whose jobs rely on trade with Canada and Mexico, damage American business, and raise prices for U.S. consumers.”

The consensus report takes note of how “NAFTA has fundamentally changed the nature of the production process in the region”. It also contains recommendations and scholarly papers exploring Inter-American trade relations; battling corruption, narcotics, and organized crime; and promoting educational exchanges. The papers warn of challenges across the Hemisphere posed by creeping Chinese and Russian influence.

Privately, senior Republicans on Capitol Hill have admitted concern over whether they’ll have the votes to ratify any new NAFTA deal that the White House cuts — especially in light of anti-trade sentiments that could hang over the 2018 midterm elections.

Friday’s presentation advocated for U.S. officials to abandon such protectionist fears.

“The U.S. should consider trade and investment agreements as crucial geo-strategic building blocks that expand U.S. national and international power and build the foundations for diplomatic, political and strategic success,” one of the scholarly papers noted.

Visiting the Capitol, a former high-ranking Mexican diplomat warned of repercussions of Washington’s current wave of Mexican bashing.

“The U.S. is an indispensable partner in the Americas,” said Arturo Sarukhan, former Mexican ambassador to the U.S. “But there is a disconnect between public perceptions and policy. In the last year alone, favorable views of the U.S. have fallen in Mexico from 71 percent to 31 percent.”

The Global Ties Foundation also advocated for Congress to fully fund the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs budget and revitalize work and educational exchanges across Latin American and Caribbean countries.

“The two strongest correlates for positive views of the United States in Latin America are trade and immigration,” said Chris Sabatini, Global Americans executive director. “As the U.S. trades with countries, and as the U.S. welcomes members of diasporas within its borders, it grows goodwill abroad. That makes the current trends in trade and immigration all the more worrisome given the plummeting standing of the U.S. in the region.”

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