President Donald Trump’s point person on trade says the administration’s top priority is locking down the best deal possible for the U.S. in the upcoming NAFTA renegotiation— and therefore it has no deadline to complete the talks.
Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told the Senate finance committee Wednesday that while he wants to move as quickly as possible, sealing a “very high-standard” agreement is of far greater importance.
Lighthizer said his pursuit of quality over speed during the renegotiation of the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement means he has set no deadline — not even an artificial one.
His remarks come as the administration faces political and corporate pressure to wrap up NAFTA talks with Canada and Mexico as soon as possible.
“There are people that have said we ought to try to get it done by the end of the year — that’s a very, very quick time frame,” Lighthizer said during his appearance in Washington, where he fielded questions about Trump’s trade agenda.
“We’re certainly not going to have a bad agreement to save time… My hope is that we can get it done by the end of the year, but there are a lot of people who think that’s completely unrealistic.”
During the hearing, Lighthizer acknowledged he’s heard concerns that the uncertainty surrounding NAFTA’s renegotiation has already had a negative impact on sales for some U.S. businesses, including farmers.
The Mexican and U.S. governments have said they want to conclude NAFTA negotiations by the first quarter of 2018.
If not, there are concerns the talks could be at risk of colliding with Mexico’s presidential election. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the current front-runner in the polls, is a populist, left-wing NAFTA critic.
A question of timing
In his testimony, Lighthizer noted — without specifically naming Mexico — that the timing of its vote does indeed support the argument the three countries should move swiftly.
“There are reasons related to other…