Texas lawmakers want info on NAFTA talks

McALLEN — Two Texas lawmakers are seeking more information from the Trump administration regarding NAFTA renegotiations.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Laredo Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar wrote a request to President Donald Trump’s trade representative Thursday seeking a meeting with all members of Congress representing districts along the U.S.-Mexico border regarding the upcoming talks.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent a notification to Congress on May 18, which triggered a 90-day period before the United States, Mexico and Canada can sit down for renegotiation talks.

“The U.S.-Mexico border region is unique and with over $579 billion in two-way trade between the U.S. and Mexico in 2016 the border region knows the opportunities and challenges of North American trade better than most,” Cornyn and Cuellar wrote in their letter to Lighthizer. “We ask that you sit with us for a substantive discussion of the role this trade plays in the economy of our region and take these considerations into mind as you negotiate a 21st Century NAFTA agreement.”

Lighthizer met with the House Ways and Means Committee, which is the committee on the House side that NAFTA falls under.

“Today, the U.S. Trade Representative spoke before Ways and Means,” Cuellar said in an interview Thursday. “One of the things he made a comment about — I think he’s trying to reframe the debate over trade — is that Trump’s changes on trade are not as radical. ‘He’s taken some extreme positions, but they’re not that extreme.’”

Lighthizer said Trump wants to expand free trade.

“The Trump administration wants to expand economic freedom, wants to expand trade, believes we can reduce our trade deficits through sales — that certainly is our objective,” Lighthizer told members of the Ways and Means Committee. “Philosophically, I would say that the president believes in free trade. He doesn’t think that it exists right now.”

The conversation did not escalate, but certain members criticized Lighthizer.

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Richard Neal, the committee’s ranking member, broached on “a lack of clarity, consistency and constitution.” New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell chimed in as well.

“The president called NAFTA a disaster,” Pascrell said. And all I’m hearing so far is just tweaking the edges. If it’s a disaster, then I’m looking at at least 22 speeches he made during the campaign where he riled up people — riled up people — about the trade agreements.”