May 11, 2017

Udall Votes to Confirm U.S. Trade Representative, Citing his Commitment to Protect NM Companies that Depend on NAFTA Trade

This week, Udall wrote to Lighthizer seeking assurances in light of Trump’s reckless rhetoric on NAFTA; Lighthizer pledged to oppose unilateral withdrawal from NAFTA & believes that efforts to force Mexico to pay for border wall would doom NAFTA renegotiation

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall voted to confirm Robert Lighthizer as United States Trade Representative after Udall secured a commitment from Lighthizer to oppose unilateral withdrawal from NAFTA by the Trump administration. Earlier this week, Udall wrote to Lighthizer seeking assurances that he would be a voice of reason to help protect the thousands of New Mexicans who rely on trade made possible by NAFTA, given President Trump’s reckless rhetoric and dangerous policy proposals that already have damaged the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship. In a meeting with Udall, Lighthizer pledged to give special consideration to New Mexico and U.S. companies that depend on NAFTA in any renegotiation. Udall released the following statement:

“When I visit border communities and businesses in New Mexico, I hear the same concerns over and over: President Trump’s threats to tear up NAFTA and his hostile rhetoric towards Mexico are hurting border economies and damaging our relationship with New Mexico’s most important trading partner. I was glad to secure a commitment from Mr. Lighthizer that he will oppose the unilateral withdrawal from NAFTA proposed by the president. Mr. Lighthizer pledged to me that he would give greater consideration to U.S. businesses — many of which are based in New Mexico’s border region and support the livelihoods of thousands of New Mexicans – in any renegotiation of NAFTA. I was also heartened to hear Mr. Lighthizer acknowledge the deeply damaging consequences of President Trump’s repeated and ridiculous demands that Mexico pay for his unnecessary wall along the southern border.

“I have never been a rubber stamp for trade agreements, and I will always stand up for New Mexico and American workers. The fact is that thousands of New Mexicans depend on trade opportunities generated by NAFTA – and our border region is one of the bright spots in our state’s struggling economy, bringing in manufacturers, businesses, and jobs, and providing a gateway for tourists, students, livestock and agricultural products. Every time President Trump raises the specter of a trade war with Mexico, or makes a reckless statement about his plans to tear up NAFTA, or repeats his insulting demands for Mexico to pay for a border wall, it's a blow to our state's border economy.

"I will hold Mr. Lighthizer to his commitments, and I will oppose any changes to NAFTA that would undermine our critical trade relationship and friendship with Mexico—changes that require congressional approval. Now that he has been confirmed, I invite Mr. Lighthizer to visit New Mexico’s border communities, so he can see firsthand how border economies are thriving – and how President Trump’s reckless approach to NAFTA threatens that success.”

In his letter to Lighthizer earlier this week, Udall wrote seeking “assurances and information about the Trump administration’s plans regarding the status of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The president has used extremely unusual negative rhetoric regarding NAFTA, including threats to unilaterally withdraw, creating uncertainty that is damaging to U.S. businesses and particularly difficult for the thousands of New Mexico families whose livelihood depends on exporting to Mexico, cross border trade, and the associated economic impacts.”

"Recently, I met with community and business leaders in the border region of New Mexico and heard firsthand how the confusing and contradictory remarks from the administration have already caused chaos and uncertainty in our business community, with investment decisions on hold, threatening to worsen our state’s already weak economic situation,” Udall continued in the letter. "This type of brinksmanship, ambiguity, and indecision is highly unlikely to benefit the United States in our trade negotiations with our closest partners, and these tactics fail to consider the substantial impact on American businesses and workers.”

The full text of the letter is available below and here.

Ambassador Lighthizer:

Congratulations on your nomination to serve as the United States Trade Representative. As part of my constitutional duty in the Senate confirmation process, I write to seek assurances and information about the Trump Administration’s plans regarding the status of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The President has used extremely unusual negative rhetoric regarding NAFTA, including threats to unilaterally withdraw, creating uncertainty that is damaging to U.S. businesses and particularly difficult for the thousands of New Mexico families whose livelihood depends on exporting to Mexico, cross border trade, and the associated economic impacts.

Over the past five years, New Mexico has experienced a thriving growth in international trade, one of the few economic bright spots in our state which currently has the highest unemployment rate in the nation. I invite you to come see southern New Mexico firsthand, including areas such as Santa Teresa and Columbus that have led the State’s seven-fold growth in international exports to Mexico. As the Administration pursues any NAFTA renegotiation, I seek your assurance that you will bear in mind New Mexico’s businesses and families that have come to rely upon open trade with our southern neighbor.

Recently, I met with community and business leaders in the border region of New Mexico and heard firsthand how the confusing and contradictory remarks from the Administration have already caused chaos and uncertainty in our business community, with investment decisions on hold, threatening to worsen our state’s already weak economic situation. The sequence of events below is a clear example of this unnecessary and harmful uncertainty driven by the Administration’s public remarks on NAFTA.

  • Directly following the inauguration, the White House released a statement that “the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA.” Just a day later at a White House event on January 22, President Trump stated “we will be starting negotiations having to do with NAFTA… We are going to start renegotiating on NAFTA, on immigration and on security at the border."
  • The Administration circulated a draft letter to Congress dated March 22, 2017 that reinforces that Canada and Mexico are the United States' two largest export markets, and that the countries have “shared borders” and “shared goals, shared histories and cultures, and shared challenges.” The draft indicated the Administration would seek to renegotiate rather than withdraw from NAFTA.
  • In a White House press briefing on April 25, Secretary Ross stated, “We’ve put the Congress on notice quite a few weeks ago of our intention to renegotiate NAFTA. What’s been stalled is getting the Trade Promotion Authority—the so-called fast-track authority—approved by the Congress.” However, Congress has yet to receive an official notification from the Administration regarding its intent to renegotiate NAFTA. Furthermore, the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 authorized Trade Promotion Authority through July 1, 2021.
  • A day later on April 26, the President made conflicting statements on whether the Administration would withdraw from or renegotiate NAFTA.

This type of brinksmanship, ambiguity, and indecision is highly unlikely to benefit the United States in our trade negotiations with our closest partners, and these tactics fail to consider the substantial impact on American businesses and workers.

  1. In order to dispel the uncertainty, I ask that you provide answers to the following questions.
  2. Under what authority would the President withdraw from or renegotiate NAFTA, and what would the impact be on the NAFTA implementinglegislation enacted into law in 1993?
  3. When does the Administration expect to notify Congress of its intent to renegotiate NAFTA, and what are your specific recommended goals for such a renegotiation?
  4. Do you agree with the content of the draft letter, cited above, circulated to Congress during the week of March 20, 2017 that outlined the Administration’s goals for renegotiation?
  5. Do you plan to account for the economic conditions in California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico that have created jobs and grown business reliant on exports to Mexico in any renegotiation of NAFTA?
  6. If the United States, Mexico, and Canada mutually agree upon updates to NAFTA, does the Administration plan to seek approval from Congress for the final agreement?
  7. Will the Administration seek to secure payments within NAFTA renegotiation or threaten trade retaliation for a border wall from Mexico?

Thank you for your attention to these important questions, and I look forward to continuing to work with you on these and other trade related issues should you be confirmed by the full Senate.

Sincerely,