Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may have effects on produce and floral trade among the U.S., Canada and Mexico, particularly if tariffs or nontariff trade barriers are raised in any form. U.S. fresh produce and floral retail markets depend on supplies from overseas. NAFTA, along with other U.S. trading relationships, has facilitated the U.S. position as the world’s largest importer of fresh produce, importing more than 17 million tons in 2014.
U.S. floral imports have consistently reached 80 percent of market supplies. U.S. produce exporters also benefit from solid customer relations in Canada and Mexico, where produce shipments reached six million tons in 2014.
A major hallmark of U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade agenda is his outspokenness on overhauling NAFTA. During the last week of April, in rapid succession, the president published two tweets after threatening to withdraw from NAFTA. The president wrote, “I received calls from the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Canada asking to renegotiate NAFTA rather than terminate. I agreed…” Then followed with a second tweet, “…subject to the fact that if we do not reach a fair deal for all, we will then terminate NAFTA. Relationships are good-deal very possible!” As the president’s 100th day in office passed on April 29, some are surprised President Trump has not yet initiated formal talks on the agreement.
Official NAFTA negotiations cannot start until the president initiates a 90-day consultation period with Congress through a formal notification letter outlining his goals. Repeated delays in sending Congress the notification letter are due to another procedural obstacle: cabinet-level members of the Trump Administration have not been able to hold the meetings with the Senate required before notification is submitted. It appears those meetings will not take place until the Senate confirms Robert Lighthizer as the U.S. Trade Representative, a confirmation that has been delayed at least in part due to Lighthizer’s past representation of foreign-owned steel interests. Congress recessed for two weeks in April, a break which prolonged delays in the trade agenda.
The notification letter, currently in draft form, ruffled some feathers when it first circled Capitol Hill. The first draft calls for changes to NAFTA that are more palatable to some groups than elimination of the trade deal or even minor changes to the agreement. Others felt the letter was too modest compared to President Trump’s continuing remarks about how “bad” NAFTA is for the U.S. The White House sought to distance itself from the draft letter in official comments following its release.
Despite an overflowing plate of major policy overhaul initiatives, including healthcare, taxes and budget reforms, President Trump’s priorities on NAFTA continue to make headlines.