It now appears that after a good bit of drama, the NAFTA path is becoming clear, at least as far as process is concerned. The required notification letter has been sent, which means that formal negotiations can begin after August 16. Since Ambassador Lighthizer has expressed a desire to get moving, it is fair to assume talks will begin soon after that date and not wait until the fall, and that informal discussions will occur before then. Meanwhile, we are waiting for the arrival of detailed U.S. negotiating objectives due to Congress by July 17. Those may not be much different than the eight page draft letter that was ultimately tossed in favor of a short standard notification letter, but even that would provide some useful guidance as to the administration’s intentions.
With the beginning more or less settled, the debate in the commentariat has switched its focus to the end. When will the negotiations finish and what will we get? There is less talk about what we will have to give in order to get anything, but that is typical. There have been a number of expressions of hope by both the Mexicans and the Americans that we can finish by the end of the year. The Mexicans don’t want to bump into their presidential election cycle, and the Americans just want to hurry up and get it over with. The Canadians, not having an imminent election and not being an impatient people, appear to be willing to go either way — short or long as circumstances dictate.