Fri May 19, 2017 01:02AM
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks with former Senator Bob Dole (R) at the Senate Finance Committee full hearing on his nomination in Washington, DC on March 14, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks with former Senator Bob Dole (R) at the Senate Finance Committee full hearing on his nomination in Washington, DC on March 14, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

US President Donald Trump's administration has launched the countdown for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.

With a letter to US lawmakers on Thursday, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer triggered a 90-day consultation period with Congress, and representatives of industries to renegotiate NAFTA -- one of the world's biggest trading blocs.

Lighthizer said this would allow talks over NAFTA to begin by mid-August. He said that NAFTA has been beneficial to US agriculture, investment services and the energy sector, but has harmed the country’s manufacturing.

"As a starting point for negotiations, we should build on what has worked in NAFTA and change and improve what has not," Lighthizer told reporters. "If renegotiations result in a fairer deal for American workers there is value in making the transition to a modernized NAFTA as seamless as possible."

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross meanwhile said with the NAFTA announcement "we intend to notify not just Congress, but all our trading partners, that free and fair trade is the new standard for US trade deals."

"Since the signing of NAFTA, we have seen our manufacturing industry decimated, factories shuttered, and countless workers left jobless," Ross said. "President Trump is going to change that."

The White House has said it is seeking of winning better terms for US workers and manufactures by renegotiating the trade agreement.

The flags of the members of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 

Renegotiating NAFTA was a key campaign promise of Trump, who frequently criticized the 23-year-old trade pact.

Canada has indicated that it is open to renegotiations, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowing to work closely with the new US president on the trade deal.

“If the Americans want to talk about NAFTA, I'm more than happy to talk about it,” he said in November.

Mexico, however, has taken a slightly different line on the issue, saying it is ready to “modernize” NAFTA rather than renegotiate it.

Last week, Mexico called on the United States to uphold NAFTA, arguing that the suspension of the trade deal would have consequences for both countries.

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While on the presidential campaign trail, Trump repeatedly censured US membership in international trade deals, pledging to renegotiate or withdraw the country from multilateral trade accords that for decades have served as foundations for global economics.

The US president formally abandoned Washington’s intent to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- the sweeping trade agreement signed under the preceding administration last year – just days after being sworn into office in January.