Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has signaled that negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement will not be held until the late months of 2017. Ross has also dismissed that the negotiations could spark a trade war, asserting that the U.S. is already engaged in a trade war with other countries.
On March 8, Ross stated that serious NAFTA negotiations between the U.S., Canada and Mexico would likely not take place until late 2017.
"You're talking probably the latter part of this year before the real negotiations get underway," Ross told Bloomberg. He added that the negotiations would then "hopefully won't take more than a year."
The commerce secretary noted that the trade agreement would take time to change because the world economy has changed since NAFTA passed in 1993.
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"It's an old treaty... There were things in it that were not done correctly to begin with," Ross said. "And a lot of things that might have been okay back then but don't work now. So there's a lot to fix."
Among the changes that Ross proposed was adding chapters to NAFTA to account for the digital economy, which had not been developed when the trade deal was originally implemented.
Lawmakers have voiced concerns that the Trump administration's desire to renegotiate NAFTA could backfire. President Donald Trump has suggested placing a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports to help fund his proposed border wall, CNN reports.
On Jan. 26, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina took to social media to note that imposing tariffs on Mexican goods would make products more expensive for Americans.
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"Mexico is [third] largest trading partner," Graham tweeted out. "Any tariff we can levy they can levy. Huge barrier to [economic] growth. Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila or margaritas is a big-time bad idea."
Ross dismissed concerns that demanding significant changes to NAFTA could alienate America's trading partners.
"The Mexicans know, the Canadians know, everybody knows, times are different," Ross said. "We are going to have new trade relations with people. And they all know they're going to have to make concessions."
The commerce secretary added "We've been in a trade war for decades. That's why we have the deficit."
On Feb. 27, 79-year-old Ross was confirmed as commerce secretary by a Senate vote of 72 to 27, The New York Times reports.
During his confirmation hearings, Ross stated that renegotiating NAFTA as the top priority for the Commerce Department.
"NAFTA is logically is the first thing for us to deal with," Ross said before the Senate Commerce Committee, according to Reuters. "We ought to solidify relationships in the best way we can in our territory before we go off to other jurisdictions."
Ross added "I am not anti-trade... But I am pro-sensible trade, not trade that is to the disadvantage of the American worker and to the American manufacturing community."