US Chamber of Commerce sounds alarm about a NAFTA pullout

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (center) said before NAFTA renegotiations the U.S. wouldn’t be satisfied with minor changes. Round 4 of talks with Canada and Mexico are set to begin in Washington.

WASHINGTON — America’s biggest business group is warning the Trump administration a withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement would be a “political and economic debacle” that would cost hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.

 

Talking with reporters Friday, John Murphy, a senior official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber would work to rally support for the trade deal and against the administration’s hardline demand for concessions from Canada and Mexico. The comments were unusually blunt for America’s biggest business group.

The Trump administration, which has threatened to pull out of NAFTA if the three countries can’t agree on far-reaching changes to favor American interests, quickly returned fire.

“The president has been clear that NAFTA has been a disaster for many Americans and achieving his objectives requires substantial change,” said Emily Davis, spokeswoman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. “These changes, of course, will be opposed by entrenched Washington lobbyists and trade associations. We have always understood that draining the swamp would be controversial in Washington.”

The fourth round of talks to overhaul NAFTA, which was enacted 23 years ago, is scheduled for next week in Washington.

NAFTA erased most trade barriers along the United States, Canada and Mexico, and led to an explosion in trade between the three countries. U.S. farm exports soared. U.S. manufacturers moved production – and jobs – south of the border to capitalize on lower Mexican wages. In doing so, they built complicated supply chains that crossed NAFTA borders.

The first three rounds of talks dealt mostly issues that weren’t in dispute. But Round 4 is expected to move into tougher territory.

 

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