Twenty years after NAFTA's approval, trade experts say the agreement is due for an upgrade to take into account the current globalized environment and to address issues not touched in the original pact. But rather than reopen NAFTA, the three countries are instead relying on negotiations underway to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade bloc of 12 countries in the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.
The Obama administration is hoping those negotiations are completed this year. The U.S. is also in negotiations over a Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. But the president is facing stiff election-year resistance from Democratic leaders over his desire to get "fast track" trade authority, which would require Congress to give yes-or-no votes on the trade agreements and deny lawmakers the opportunity to amend them.
Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have made clear they don't want Obama pushing the issue this year. Trade agreements have typically been more popular with Republicans than with Democrats; business groups tend to support the removal of trade barriers whereas labor unions fear the loss of jobs. President Bill Clinton faced staunch Democratic opposition when he pressed for NAFTA approval in 1993.
Obama expressed his desire to win the agreements during his State of the Union address last month. But he has since focused on domestic economic policies and hasn't drawn attention to the trade issue. Still, White House officials say the president will make it clear to Pena Nieto and Harper that the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations, which are further along than the ones with the European Union, should be completed this year.
"We're going to continue to press for this priority, as we have in the past, mindful, of course, and recognizing that there are differing views on these issues in both parties, not just the Democratic Party," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday when asked about the lack of support from the president's party.