Robert Lighthizer, U.S. trade representative, attends the first round of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations in Washington D.C., the United States, on August 16, 2017. (Xinhua/Ting Shen)
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (Xinhua) -- The United States, Canada and Mexico on Wednesday kicked off the first round of renegotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) amid widespread uncertainty and anxiety over the future of the decades-old trilateral trade deal.
"We all agree that NAFTA needs updating. This is a 23-year-old agreement and our economies are very different than they were in the 1990s," U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer said in his opening remarks for the inaugural round of NAFTA talks, which will last until Sunday in Washington D.C.
"We need to modernize or create provisions which protect digital trade and service trade, e-commerce, update customs procedures, protect intellectual property, improving energy provisions, enhance transparency rules and promote science-based agricultural trade," Lighthizer said.
He hoped that the three countries could develop model provisions in each of these areas that can be used for years ahead and have the flexibility to adapt to future innovations.
Lighthizer also claimed that NAFTA "has fundamentally failed many, many Americans", and the United States "cannot ignore the huge trade deficits, the lost manufacturing jobs, the businesses that have closed or moved" because of incentives in the current agreement.
The top U.S. trade official said President Donald Trump, who has threatened to quit NAFTA, was not interested in "a mere tweaking of a few provisions and a couple of updated chapters," and the United States would seek "major improvement" of the agreement.
"We need to assure that huge trade deficits do not continue and we have balance and reciprocity. This should be periodically reviewed," Lighthizer said.
In July, the USTR's office for the first time included deficit reduction as a specific objective for the NAFTA negotiations, reflecting the Trump administration's determination to address the issue.
However, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland dismissed the use of trade deficits as indicators of the success of a trade agreement.
"Canada doesn't view trade surpluses or deficits as a primary measure of whether a trading relationship works," Freeland said in her opening remarks, adding current trade between the U.S. and Canada is "balanced and mutually beneficial."