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Congress urging transparency to Trump on NAFTA negotiation

August 5, 2017 GMT

McALLEN — A letter is circulating the U.S. House of Representatives calling for a transparent North American Free Trade Agreement negotiation, which is set to start later this month.

NAFTA, the two-decade old trade pact between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, has transformed the Rio Grande Valley. U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, recently received the letter and is reviewing it before deciding whether to pledge his signature. New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell is the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade. Ways and Means is the committee on the House side that NAFTA negotiations fall under. The Senate Finance Committee, which Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn sits on, is where NAFTA falls under on the Senate side.

Pascrell is asking his colleagues in the House to urge the Trump administration to be transparent in the negotiations.

“With NAFTA negotiations beginning later this month, it is imperative that the Trump Administration develop a process for sharing negotiating documents with Congress and the public,” the letter reads. “Such a process is necessary to get Congressional and public support for any eventual agreement.”

The letter asks for access to negotiating texts for Congressional staff, members of the trade advisory committees, labor action plans and a final version of the agreement. The final letter, which would be signed by members of Congress, will be sent to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a member of Trump’s cabinet.

“Transparency and consultation with Congress are critical to establishing support for U.S. trade policies,” the letter to Lighthizer begins. “Yet the Administration has still not publicly stated its views on a range of issues and, to our knowledge, has not appointed a Chief Transparency Officer at USTR, as required by statute.”

Lighthizer released the administration’s goals for the negotiation, one of which was to reduce the $64 billion trade deficit with Mexico, as well as an implementation of a digital chapter to NAFTA. However, Pascrell in this letter, and many other Democrats including Cuellar, have criticized the objectives as being too vague.

“The consultation guidelines do not explicitly order USTR to provide Congress or the advisory committees with the text of an agreement before the President notifies Congress of the intent to enter into an agreement,” the letter reads. “The Administration should explicitly resolve this issue and provide access prior to notification.”

Pascrell encouraged full transparency throughout the planning stages, as well as once the negotiations begin.

“As the legitimacy of trade negotiations has come under more intense scrutiny in the United States and across the world,” the letter concludes, “we believe that it is in all parties’ interest to ensure that consultations and transparency provisions are as robust as possible.”

mferman@themonitor.com