Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves

Published on The Hill.

By VICKI NEEDHAM

 

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has never been more popular on Capitol Hill.

The three-nation trade agreement that has long come under fire from both parties is getting a rousing defense amid a push from the Trump administration to either renegotiate or scrap the deal altogether.

Business advocates of the 24-year-old deal between the United States, Canada and Mexico say lawmakers have become significantly more interested in the pact recently amid talks to update the deal despite President Trump’s threats to withdraw from the agreement.

Groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along with a growing number of lawmakers, are urging the White House to finish updating the deal and resist any urge to withdraw from the agreement.

John Murphy, senior vice president for international policy at the Chamber, said he was surprised during this week’s NAFTA lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill at how much lawmakers have ratcheted up their engagement in the past few months.

“It has been a sea change since last October,” Murphy said.

Murphy said that the consensus on Capitol Hill is to update the deal and avoid so-called poison pills that could doom the pact.

“They are strongly supportive of modernizing the agreement and lawmakers are pushing back against unconventional approaches that would reduce trade and push production offshore,” Murphy said.

The Chamber had about 150 business representatives who visited a mix of 280 Republican and Democratic House offices.

Last fall, the Chamber warned that several of the U.S. proposals could torpedo the entire deal and they urged the Trump administration to “do no harm” as negotiations continue.

The seventh round of NAFTA talks are slated to begin Feb. 25 and run through March 5 in Mexico City.

Christine Bliss, president of the Coalition of Services Industries, said she was pleased with what she heard during her visits to lawmakers’ offices recently.

“Members increasingly seem to understand that NAFTA has a positive impact on jobs and growth in their districts. It’s really resonating,” she said.

Bliss, whose group represents a broad spectrum of businesses from insurance and banking to telecommunications and logistics, said the surge of support and attention to the NAFTA deal is “a very welcome change and noticeable from where we were.”

She said the voices of support are growing louder on the Hill, helping to drown out Trump’s regular calls to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.

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