On May 18, 2017, the newly confirmed United States Trade Representative (Ambassador Lighthizer) formally notified the United States Congress that President Trump intends to initiate negotiations with Canada and Mexico to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”). The May 18, 2017 letter sets into motion a 90-day countdown for the first formal round of negotiations.  The possible start date for the NAFTA re-negotiations is August 18, 2017.

The May 18, 2017 letter raises the following issues:

  • digital trade;
  • intellectual property rights;
  • regulatory practices;
  • state-owned enterprises;
  • services;
  • customs procedures;
  • sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures;
  • labour;
  • environment; and
  • small and medium sized enterprises.

Some of these issues were addressed in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (e.g., small and medium sized businesses, digital trade, labour, environment, state-owned enterprises, etc.).  Many of the issues (e.g., services, regulatory practices, customs procedures. etc.) have evolved under Canada-US bilateral activities and at the WTO.  There is certainly room for improvement.