Talking NAFTA with Canada and Mexico


(Left to right: Karl Ege, Jacqueline Miller, Brandon Lee, Dr. Roberto Dondisch, and Tom Robertson)


In light of ongoing negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Brandon A. Lee and Roberto Dondisch, Canadian Consul General and Mexican Consul General respectively, joined the World Affairs Council for a lunch discussion at Perkins Coie LLP on December 1, 2017. The conversation was a part of the “Understanding the Global Economy” series sponsored by the Foster Global Business Center at the University of Washington. Tom Robertson, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Microsoft, moderated the conversation.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump questioned the role of free trade with Canada and Mexico in the economy of the United States. The administration has since called for renegotiations of the 1993 agreement. The proposals discussed in the continuing rounds of negotiation would not only affect United States citizens but also Canadian and Mexican populations as well.

IMG_8931As Mr. Lee stressed in the discussion, Canada is no minor player in United States trade: trade flow between the two countries can reach $2 billion per day. And, relevant to many attendees, Canada is the top trading partner of Washington State, thanks to NAFTA. However, Mr. Lee pointed out that Canada also suggested that the agreement needs updating. Primarily, our northern neighbors would like to see NAFTA include digital trade, small and medium enterprises, incorporate smoother and faster flow, and regulating cooperation on all sides. Canada also acknowledges that there are many communities who have not benefited from passing the agreement. Thus, it is necessary to negotiate new proposals to make NAFTA more progressive such as labor rights, gender rights, indigenous rights, and environmental provisions.


While anti-trade rhetoric has emerged in the United States, Dr. Dondisch offered a Mexican perspective on what NAFTA means. IMG_8936While the first years of implementation were very tough on the Mexican economy, he said, Mexico’s participation was more of a strategic move than one expected to produce immediate results. Allying with the United States in such a binding manner suggested the change in thinking of a generation of Mexican citizens who wanted to see their country emerge as global player in trade. NAFTA, then, was a guarantee of support from the United States and Canada.

In a timely discussion, Lee and Dondisch outlined the proposals from the United States that have been deemed “unconventional” by Canada and Mexico. These changes are mainly in the terms of Dispute Settlement, Rules of Origin, Government Procurement, and a Sunset Clause. Dondisch pointed out that in negotiations of any type it is common for members to propose amendments that will not reach a middle ground with all parties. The starting points offered by the United States have proven to be “non-starters” according to the Mexican Consul General.

Both Lee and Dondisch emphasized the role of NAFTA, as the largest trading bloc in the world, in making each of the three participating countries globally competitive. Both Canada and Mexico remain active in current negotiations and hope to continue the goodwill and cooperation that have become the capstone of NAFTA.