NAFTA Chief Negotiators confirmed yesterday that although the 5th Round of NAFTA negotiations will formally begin today on November 17th, some negotiating groups began meeting on Wednesday this week. Nearly 30 negotiating groups will be meeting during the 5th Round, which will conclude on November 21, the Office of the Trade Representatives said.

The three NAFTA Ministers agreed at the end of Round 4 to allow more space between rounds, in order to provide negotiators with enough time to analyze the proposals that all three countries have tabled so far and to conduct internal consultations.

In addition, NAFTA ministers met separately at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meetings in Da Nang, Vietnam, and instructed NAFTA Chief Negotiators to focus on advancing discussions on tabled proposals as much as possible. Given the substantive discussions held between Ministers at APEC, Ministers agreed not to attend the 5th Round so negotiators can continue to make important progress on key chapters advanced in Round 4. However, Chief Negotiators from Mexico, the United States and Canada said they will be in constant communication with their respective Ministers and will report on the progress reached in this round.

President Trump has not backed off threats to withdrawn from the agreement and has called NAFTA the worst trade deal ever, citing a loss of manufacturing jobs and a trade deficit.  President Trump has threatened to issue a formal intent to withdraw from NAFTA and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has also disputed that such a move would cause a drop in agricultural exports.

U.S. food and agriculture exports to Mexico and Canada have more than quadrupled since 1993 to $38.6 billion in 2015.  Mexico and Canada’s share of total U.S. ag exports has grown to 28 percent, from 19 percent since NAFTA took effect.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said recently that, while he understands the anxiety, he maintains the president’s threats are a bargaining tactic.  Perdue told reporters recently that he was working with the Trump administration and Congress on a plan to protect farmers and ranchers from the potential market effects of the United States withdrawing from the trade agreement.

However, Perdue said he does not think a contingency plan will have to be put into action, saying NAFTA will be “successfully” renegotiated.  “There will be some nervous bumps in the meantime because trade is so important to American agriculture,” the Secretary said.  “We’re continuing to educate the administration over the benefit of agreements like NAFTA from an agricultural perspective,” Secretary Perdue said.