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)

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

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

(Black Press file photo)
Charges laid against two suspects in pre-Christmas home invasion

An 88-year-old woman was hospitalized after being bear-sprayed in the face Dec. 18, 2020

Liam and Tyler Spaans, (L-R), are two of the current lifeguards at the Houston Leisure Facility. (Houston Leisure Services file photo)
Leisure facility anticipates need for lifeguards

Has been challenged in the past

Residents rank snow removal as a high priority within District boundaries. (Houston Today file photo)
Road work and snow removal ranked as important in citizen survey

But residents also expressed dissatisfaction with each

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: Island teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

Most Read