Letter to the Hon. Robert E. Lighthizer, USTR - Against Take-or-Leave Strategy


Dear Ambassador Lighthizer:

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force in 1994, our economy has diversified and transformed through technological advances and growing industrial capabilities. To meet the needs of today's North American economy, we agree that NAFTA should be modernized. We applaud the Administration's ongoing efforts to update NAFTA and offer any support or assistance needed to reach an agreement that strengthens the American economy. As negotiations near conclusion, we will also take this opportunity to highlight the consultative and procedural requirements for fast-track congressional consideration and approval of a free trade agreement (FTA) set forth in The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA).

As you know, TPA helps ensure that the executive branch will consider congressional input and priorities before concluding the negotiation of a FTA. Specifically, these requirements include that the Administration meet upon request with any Member of Congress regarding negotiating objectives, consult closely with the Senate Committee on Finance and House Committee on Ways and Means, and keep fully apprised any designated congressional advisers. As a result of these consultative requirements, and other provisions set forth in statute, TPA also provides for expedited congressional consideration of negotiated FTAs, allowing for simple majority votes in both Houses of Congress without the consideration of any amendments. However, we are concerned that the necessary congressional support under TPA could be endangered if provisions counter to congressional priorities and objectives set forth in TPA are included in an updated NAFTA agreement. As you near the conclusion of NAFTA negotiations, we urge you to closely consider the parameters and negotiating objectives outlined in TPA and work closely with Members of Congress from both parties to ensure that any agreement has the broad support necessary to be enacted into law.

We are concerned about recent media reports suggesting that you may be considering an ultimatum strategy to pressure Congress into accepting an updated NAFTA, including through threats to withdraw from the original agreement. In the past, you have suggested that your goal is to achieve overwhelming bipartisan support for a modernized NAFTA. We believe this goal is only achievable through a strategy to constructively engage Members of Congress as required by TPA and without attempting to force a choice between negative outcomes. In our view, a take-it or leave-it strategy could have negative unintended effects that jeopardize American jobs and economic growth. When discussing NAFTA modernization legislation with Congress, we ask the Administration employ a strategy that emphasizes collaboration, rather than conflict.

We thank you for your tireless efforts to improve NAFTA and look forward to continuing our work to strengthen America's economy through free and fair trade.