Trump Administration Opens Marathon Nafta Hearings

By Jacob M. Schlesinger Features Dow Jones Newswires

Over the past quarter century, the North American Free Trade Agreement has done much to transform the region's economy, rewiring supply chains, shaking up labor markets, altering consumer choices and integrating border towns. The vast range of commerce touched by the pact will be evident this week, when the Trump administration holds marathon public hearings over plans to rewrite the deal with Mexico and Canada.

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Beginning with an 11-hour session slated to open at 8:50 a.m. Tuesday, the U.S. Trade Representative's office plans three days of hearings, churning through more than 130 witnesses. Many of the speakers during the 24 hours of discussion are predictable players at such events: representatives of the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and prominent trade academics.

But the variety of speakers shows the widespread interest in the pact, with a long list of industries, unions and activists looking to protect what they've gained since the 1994 launch, to make up for what they've lost, or to take advantage of the opportunity for change.

The kickoff session includes textile makers, the U.S. Fashion Industry Association, and the Rubber and Plastic Footwear Manufacturers Association. They'll be followed by representatives of the agriculture sector -- one of Nafta's big winners -- hailing from tomato, strawberry, wheat and corn growers, as well as three different cattlemen's trade groups. Those speakers will be joined by the Pet Food Institute and the National Renderers Association, the trade group for the industry that recycles livestock slaughterhouse byproducts, among other things, into soaps, paints, and the like.

The recording industry, the motion pictures association, the Library Copyright Alliance, and the Consortium for Common Food Names will help round out the Tuesday session, accompanied by the National Football League, which is fighting with Canada over broadcast advertising rules.

Auto makers, truck drivers and the Council on Safe Transportation of Hazardous Articles will get their say Wednesday, along with Global Justice for Animals and the Environment and the Center for Water Security and Cooperation. The wrap-up Thursday includes the Visual Effects Industry, the American Cancer Society, and the Western Canada Alliance of Wall and Ceiling Contractors.

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The intense interest in Nafta has been spurred by President Donald Trump's harsh criticism of the sweeping pact as "a disaster," and his April threat to pull out abruptly and completely. That has sparked a robust defense from Nafta advocates who had long taken the agreement for granted, and raised hopes for critics looking for fix what they see as longstanding problems. It also creates openings for lobbyists seeking business anytime Washington reopens a big program, whether it's a trade agreement, the tax law, or financial regulation.

In the month after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer's mid-May notification to Congress that the pact would be renegotiated, his agency got more than 12,000 public comments on the matter, crashing the server and forcing him to extend the comment period.

Write to Jacob M. Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 27, 2017 05:44 ET (09:44 GMT)