The Trump administration's July 17 release of its plan to modernize NAFTA takes aim at the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico and promises updates in areas like digital commerce and labor and environmental provisions.
But it stopped short of some of President Trump's more dramatic calls in the past to scrap the deal.
The administration said it's the first time the U.S. government has listed trade deficit reduction as a specific objective in NAFTA talks, and said that trade with Mexico went from a $1.3 billion surplus when NAFTA was implemented in 1994 to a $64 billion deficit in 2016.
"Too many Americans have been hurt by closed factories, exported jobs, and broken political promises," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, in a statement. "Under President Trump's leadership, USTR will negotiate a fair deal. We will seek to address America's persistent trade imbalances, break down trade barriers, and give Americans new opportunities to grow their exports."
Manufacturing and business groups in the U.S. had a muted reaction.
The National Association of Manufacturers said it wanted a modernized NAFTA to "level the playing field." But it also noted that Canada and Mexico purchase one-fifth of all manufactured goods made in the United States, supporting 2 million jobs in U.S. factories.
Plastics and chemicals trade associations have generally urged the Trump administration to be cautious. They have noted that the plastics and chemicals industries have a trade surplus with Mexico and Canada and urged the administration to "do no harm" to tightly-knit cross border trade.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce seemed to suggest that point was recognized in the administration's 18-page list of negotiating points: "We commend the administration's recognition that we must do no harm to the American jobs, businesses, and industries that depend on trade with Canada and Mexico."
Formal negotiations will begin after Aug. 16, USTR said.