Alexander to Administration: Work with Congress to Modernize NAFTA

Posted on May 21, 2018

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2018 – United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), along with 31 Republican senators, today sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging him to work closely with Congress as he seeks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and warned against giving Congress an ultimatum on changing NAFTA.

The senators wrote: “Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force in 1994, our economy has diversified and transformed through technological advances and growing industrial capabilities. To meet the needs of today’s North American economy, we agree that NAFTA should be modernized. We applaud the Administration’s ongoing efforts to update NAFTA and offer any support or assistance needed to reach an agreement that strengthens the American economy. …We are concerned about recent media reports suggesting that you may be considering an ultimatum strategy to pressure Congress into accepting an updated NAFTA, including through threats to withdraw from the original agreement. In the past, you have suggested that your goal is to achieve overwhelming bipartisan support for a modernized NAFTA. We believe this goal is only achievable through a strategy to constructively engage Members of Congress as required by TPA and without attempting to force a choice between negative outcomes. In our view, a take-it or leave- it strategy could have negative unintended effects that jeopardize American jobs and economic growth. When discussing NAFTA modernization legislation with Congress, we ask the Administration employ a strategy that emphasizes collaboration, rather than conflict.”

Senator Alexander said: “Changes to NAFTA could make it more expensive to build cars in Tennessee, threatening thousands of jobs in 88 counties, and make it harder for businesses and farmers to export their products. President Trump has invited me two or three times to discussions about trade issues, and he has been a good listener.  I will continue to tell the president that NAFTA has been good for Tennessee, and I look forward to working with Ambassador Lighthizer to help make sure that changes to NAFTA do not hurt workers or consumers.”

Alexander has discussed with President Trump and Ambassador Lighthizer how trade, including NAFTA, has been responsible for creating thousands of jobs and higher family incomes in Tennessee, and how the U.S. should not lose sight of the benefits of trade.

Last year, Tennessee businesses exported $33.2 billion of goods ranging from cars, to medical devices and agricultural products. According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, 967 foreign-based businesses employ more than 147,000 Tennesseans. Auto related manufacturing, which is the state’s largest export, accounts for one third of Tennessee’s manufacturing jobs and can be found in 88 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.

Senators Cornyn (R-Texas), Isakson (R-Ga.), Roberts (R-Kan.), Lankford (R-Okla.), Ernst (R-Iowa), Boozman (R-Ark.), Toomey (R-Pa.), Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Fischer (R-Neb.), Rounds (R-S.D.), Sasse (R-Neb.), Moran (R-Kan.), Graham (R-S.C.), Young (R-Ind.), Tillis (R-N.C.), Johnson (R-Wis.), Thune (R-S.D.), Enzi (R-Wyo.), Grassley (R-Iowa), Wicker (R-Miss.), Scott (R-S.C.), Hoeven (R-N.D.), Daines (R-Mont.), Crapo (R-Idaho), Corker (R-Tenn.), McCain (R-Ariz.), Cruz (R-Texas.), Risch (R-Idaho) Lee (R-Utah), Cassidy (R-La.) and Gardner (R-Colo.) also signed the letter to Ambassador Lighthizer.

The letter reads in full:

The Honorable Robert E. Lighthizer

United States Trade Representative

600 17th Street N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20508

 

Dear Ambassador Lighthizer:

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force in 1994, our economy has diversified and transformed through technological advances and growing industrial capabilities. To meet the needs of today’s North American economy, we agree that NAFTA should be modernized. We applaud the Administration’s ongoing efforts to update NAFTA and offer any support or assistance needed to reach an agreement that strengthens the American economy. As negotiations near conclusion, we will also take this opportunity to highlight the consultative and procedural requirements for fast-track congressional consideration and approval of a free trade agreement (FTA) set forth in The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA).

As you know, TPA helps ensure that the executive branch will consider congressional input and priorities before concluding the negotiation of a FTA. Specifically, these requirements include that the Administration meet upon request with any Member of Congress regarding negotiating objectives, consult closely with the Senate Committee on Finance and House Committee on Ways and Means, and keep fully apprised any designated congressional advisers. As a result of these consultative requirements, and other provisions set forth in statute, TPA also provides for expedited congressional consideration of negotiated FTAs, allowing for simple majority votes in both Houses of Congress without the consideration of any amendments. However, we are concerned that the necessary congressional support under TPA could be endangered if provisions counter to congressional priorities and objectives set forth in TPA are included in an updated NAFTA agreement. As you near the conclusion of NAFTA negotiations, we urge you to closely consider the parameters and negotiating objectives outlined in TPA and work closely with Members of Congress from both parties to ensure that any agreement has the broad support necessary to be enacted into law.

We are concerned about recent media reports suggesting that you may be considering an ultimatum strategy to pressure Congress into accepting an updated NAFTA, including through threats to withdraw from the original agreement. In the past, you have suggested that your goal is to achieve overwhelming bipartisan support for a modernized NAFTA. We believe this goal is only achievable through a strategy to constructively engage Members of Congress as required by TPA and without attempting to force a choice between negative outcomes. In our view, a take-it or leave- it strategy could have negative unintended effects that jeopardize American jobs and economic growth. When discussing NAFTA modernization legislation with Congress, we ask the Administration employ a strategy that emphasizes collaboration, rather than conflict. 

We thank you for your tireless efforts to improve NAFTA and look forward to continuing our work to strengthen America’s economy through free and fair trade.

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