U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, left, shakes hands with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, accompanied by Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, after they spoke at a news conference on Wednesday at the start of NAFTA renegotiations in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Autos likely high on U.S. NAFTA agenda

Early indications suggest automobiles will emerge as first priority on Day 1 of NAFTA negotiations

WASHINGTON — Early indications are pointing to a potential No. 1 priority for the U.S. in a renegotiated NAFTA: automobiles.

It’s the specific issue that was mentioned first, at greatest length, and in most detail by Donald Trump’s trade czar as talks got underway Wednesday.

Robert Lighthizer pointed to the carnage in the manufacturing sector as the reason so many Americans view NAFTA as a failed agreement.

“Thousands of American factory workers have lost their jobs because of these provisions,” Lighthizer said in his opening remarks.

He cited priorities for the sector, designed to boost production of parts in North America, and in the United States.

Industry members are warning Lighthizer to handle the matter with care as the details are complicated, and any wrong moves could either drive up vehicle prices.

There’s also a risk that changes could make North American producers less competitive, or even force them to just ignore the new rules and simply pay a tariff that would be passed along to consumers.

Lighthizer listed four priorities for the sector:

— A higher North American content requirement to avoid a tariff. The current rule of origin calls for 62.5 per cent of a car’s parts to be made in North America.

— Substantial U.S. content in cars. It was unclear whether he was advocating a new, specific requirement for U.S. content — a move that would surely be controversial — or whether he was simply stating that the desired changes should positively affect the region, with more cars being made in the U.S.

— Stricter monitoring to make sure companies comply with the rules of origin. Lighthizer said country of origin “should be verified, not deemed.” Labour provisions should be included in the agreement and be as strong as possible.

— Tougher labour standards. Some insiders in Canada and the U.S. suggest better worker conditions in Mexico, and more pay, would not only be good for Mexicans but also for making non-Mexican production more cost-effective and preserving vehicle production in Canada and the U.S.

A Canadian auto-industry representative at the talks said he’s not worried by what he heard: “There’s no anxiety about it with us,” said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

For example, Volpe interpreted Lighthizer’s words to mean that he’s hoping for more production in the U.S. as a spinoff effect of a stronger North American industry, not as a demand that plants move there from other countries.

But he urged negotiators to be very careful when touching the current rules. He warned of ample possibilities for unintended consequences.

“It’s not simple,” Volpe said. ”If you make it too onerous, does a company or supplier say, ‘Forget about compliance. I’ll just pay the tariff.’”

That means production would actually shift abroad: companies would simply pay the tariffs, ranging from 2.5 to 6.1 per cent, as a cheaper alternative to following complicated new rules.

It’s also risky to try requiring companies to produce certain products at home, Volpe added: some industries that produce certain types of electronics for automobiles simply don’t exist in North America.

Finally, damaging Mexican competitiveness can boomerang on companies from the other countries.

He said Canadian auto-parts companies have 43,000 employees in Mexico.

Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cranbrook Knights of Columbus donate funds to seven local organizations

City Councillor Wayne Price (centre) presents a $400 cheque to Brian Clifford… Continue reading

CBT grant helps local disc golf club improve youth access to sport

The Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) has announced it will be distributing a… Continue reading

Battle of youth vs experience at 2020 BC Championships in Cranbrook

Rebecca Connop Price The 2020 BC Championships in Cranbrook next week could… Continue reading

It happened this week in 1913

Jan. 19 - 25: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the newspapers at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

You’re never too old to be Green

Cranbrook Community Theatre made boosting the green footprint of the Studio/Stage Door a priority in 2019.

VIDEO: Mass coronavirus quarantines seen in China won’t happen in Canada, authorities say

‘If a case comes here, and it is probably … it will still be business as normal’

Province’s oldest practising lawyer shares advice at her 100th birthday party

Firefighters bring Constance Isherwood a cake with 100 birthday candles

Vernon woman suing McDonald’s for spilled coffee

Woman seeking nearly $10K, says employee failed to put lid on properly

Diners’ health tax not catching on in B.C., restaurant group says

Small businesses look for options to cover employer health tax

B.C. comic wins judgment after club owner slaps cellphone out of his hands

Incident happened last summer when Garrett Clark was performing in Abbotsford

Mayors call for ‘calmness’ as highway rockslide cuts Tofino, Ucluelet off from supplies

Ministry of transportation expects to open road for “essential travel only” from noon-8 p.m. Friday.

Owner surrenders dog suffering from days-old gunshot wound to B.C. SPCA

The dog was also found to be emaciated and suffering from a flea infestation

B.C. man dies after police called for ‘firearms injury’ in rural Alberta

Victim is 30-year-old Greater Victoria man, say police

Most Read