Business Group Calls Trump Nafta Proposals 'Dangerous'--Update

By Jacob M. Schlesinger Features Dow Jones Newswires

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday outlined a long list of objections to the Trump administration's proposals for rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement and said it was launching an effort to try to keep the ideas from advancing in talks with Mexico and Canada.

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"We see these proposals as highly dangerous," John Murphy, the top trade official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told reporters Friday morning at a press briefing.

"We're at a crossroads here," Mr. Murphy added. "It's very worrying."

Mr. Murphy cited as objectionable a number of proposals that the administration has either already submitted or told business groups and members of Congress that it plans to submit during the continuing talks. These include proposals to impose new requirements for U.S. content in all cars qualifying for Nafta's special treatment; weaken or scrap provisions for arbitrating disputes among governments and companies in the three countries; create new limits on Canadian and Mexican access to U.S. government procurement; create a new "sunset" clause in the pact that would make it expire unless the countries regularly agree to renew it.

"Even one of them could be sufficient to move the business and agriculture communities to oppose an agreement that included them," Mr. Murphy said.

The chamber's senior vice president for international policy said that the business lobby would ramp up coordination with other trade groups in the coming days to amplify their concerns to administration officials, lawmakers, and the general public, particularly in states that Donald Trump carried in the 2016 election and depend heavily on exports to Nafta countries. He didn't elaborate.

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A spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer -- who is leading the negotiations for the Trump administration, and has crafted many of the contentious proposals -- didn't respond immediately to a request for comment. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

The chamber and other groups have worked closely with the administration on policies like deregulation and the effort to implement big tax cuts. And, as Mr. Trump regularly notes in speeches and on Twitter, business confidence gauges, and stock market indexes, have hit new highs during his administration.

However, there have been tensions in other areas. Prominent executives have tangled with Mr. Trump on a number of fronts. Business leaders in August disbanded two CEO councils created by the White House, protesting what they said was the president's failure to sufficiently condemn racism after the violent Charlottesville, Va., protests.

The chamber openly attacked Mr. Trump over his pledges during the campaign to rip up Nafta and other trade agreements. Mr. Trump threatened to withdraw from Nafta in April but the tensions eased after the administration agreed instead to renegotiate, and, in the early rounds, put forth modest proposals that business supported.

Mr. Trump has long said he disagreed with the trade policies fixed over the past half-century, in cooperation with big business, and was prepared to listen more to ideas embraced by labor unions and other free-trade critics.

Mr. Murphy said that the chamber and other business groups have repeatedly voiced their objections to emerging Trump Nafta proposals and "the expert analysis and the views of industry have too often been brushed aside."

The chamber and others are "urging the administration to recalibrate its approach," he said. "They should stop and listen to the business community."

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

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday outlined a long list of objections to the Trump administration's proposals for rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement and said it was launching an effort to try to keep the ideas from advancing in talks with Mexico and Canada.

"We see these proposals as highly dangerous," John Murphy, the top trade official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told reporters Friday morning at a press briefing.

"We're at a crossroads here," Mr. Murphy added. "It's very worrying."

Mr. Murphy cited as objectionable a number of proposals that the administration has either already submitted or told business groups and members of Congress that it plans to submit during the continuing talks. These include proposals to impose new requirements for U.S. content in all cars qualifying for Nafta's special treatment; weaken or scrap provisions for arbitrating disputes among governments and companies in the three countries; create new limits on Canadian and Mexican access to U.S. government procurement; create a new "sunset" clause in the pact that would make it expire unless the countries regularly agree to renew it.

"Even one of them could be sufficient to move the business and agriculture communities to oppose an agreement that included them," Mr. Murphy said.

The chamber's senior vice president for international policy said that the business lobby would ramp up coordination with other trade groups in the coming days to amplify their concerns to administration officials, lawmakers, and the general public, particularly in states that Donald Trump carried in the 2016 election and depend heavily on exports to Nafta countries. He didn't elaborate.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is leading the negotiations for the Trump administration and has crafted many of the proposals, said the president's objectives in the Nafta talks are aimed at creating jobs and reducing the trade deficit.

"The president has been clear that Nafta has been a disaster for many Americans, and achieving his objectives requires substantial change," said USTR spokeswoman Emily Davis. "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 chamber and other groups have worked closely with the administration on policies like deregulation and the effort to implement big tax cuts. And, as Mr. Trump regularly notes in speeches and on Twitter, business confidence gauges, and stock market indexes, have hit new highs during his administration.

However, there have been tensions in other areas. Prominent executives have tangled with Mr. Trump on a number of fronts. Business leaders in August disbanded two CEO councils created by the White House, protesting what they said was the president's failure to sufficiently condemn racism after the violent Charlottesville, Va., protests.

The chamber openly attacked Mr. Trump over his pledges during the campaign to rip up Nafta and other trade agreements. Mr. Trump threatened to withdraw from Nafta in April but the tensions eased after the administration agreed instead to renegotiate, and, in the early rounds, put forth modest proposals that business supported.

Mr. Trump has long said he disagreed with the trade policies fixed over the past half-century, in cooperation with big business, and was prepared to listen more to ideas embraced by labor unions and other free-trade critics.

Mr. Murphy said that the chamber and other business groups have repeatedly voiced their objections to emerging Trump Nafta proposals and "the expert analysis and the views of industry have too often been brushed aside."

The chamber and others are "urging the administration to recalibrate its approach," he said. "They should stop and listen to the business community."

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 06, 2017 13:03 ET (17:03 GMT)