MISSION, RGV – U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has notified congressional leaders that President Trump intends to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Lighthizer said he was triggering a 90-day consultation period with Congress, industries and the American public that would allow talks over one of the world’s biggest trading blocs to begin by Aug. 16.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer

NAFTA is 23-year-old trade agreement signed by the United States, Mexico and Canada. During the presidential election campaign last year, Donald Trump said NAFTA was a “disaster” and the worst trade deal the U.S. ever entered into. He said he wanted to shrink the deficits the U.S. has with its NAFTA partners. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. deficit with Mexico stood at $63 billion last year. With Canada it stood at $11 billion.

Lighthizer said Trump supports higher-paying jobs and wants to grow the U.S. economy by improving trading opportunities with Canada and Mexico.

Click here to read Lighthizer’s comments to reporters.

The Rio Grande Valley’s three members of Congress offered their views.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela

“Today’s Congressional notification by the Trump Administration of their intention to re-open the NAFTA agreement comes at a time when our partnership with Mexico is strained by President Trump’s words and actions,” said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville.

“While there may be a need to update NAFTA to reflect technological advancements, it is critical that we not disrupt the underlying fundamentals of the important trade relationship with our ally Mexico. Mexico is our nation’s third largest trading partner, and trade with Mexico supports 5 million jobs in this country of which 382,000 are in my home state of Texas.”

Vela’s comments were echoed by U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez

“I welcome the Administration’s announcement that it will formally begin the process of updating NAFTA, an agreement that has transformed the U.S.-Mexico border region, the State of Texas and the Rio Grande Valley,” Gonzalez said.

“I call on the Administration to build on the successes of NAFTA and work with Congress to improve the agreement so it can continue to create jobs and grow our economy in South Texas and across the country.”

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo offered a longer statement.

“Today, the administration indicated their intent to open North American trade negotiations. I am glad to see they finally agree with me that the best path forward is to update NAFTA, not dismantle it.

“NAFTA has been a big success for Texas and the entire United States. Trade from NAFTA supports more than 1.5 million Texas jobs.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

“I hope the administration plans to negotiate in good faith with our friends Canada and Mexico. We have an opportunity to bring the deal into the 21st century by looking at the work we did for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

“Throughout my time in Congress, I have been listening to business leaders and entrepreneurs on both sides of the border. I meet with the officials that manage our ports of entry, like in my home town of Laredo, to learn their needs and concerns. I have worked across the aisle with Republican colleagues like Senator John Cornyn and Congressman Kevin Brady, to defend NAFTA and prepare for a renegotiation.

“If the Trump administration is sincere, I am more than ready to roll up my sleeves and work with them, to forge a deal that boosts American jobs,” Cuellar said.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas offered this statement:

“NAFTA is vitally important to the state of Texas, with free trade adding billions of dollars to our economy annually. We have a great opportunity to improve and modernize this landmark agreement. By updating NAFTA, we can address modern-day challenges without sacrificing economic prosperity. I look forward to working with the President and community leaders in Texas to ensure any updates made are in the best interest of my state, and the many farmers, ranchers, and job creators whose livelihoods depend on this vital agreement.”

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin issued the following statement:

“I welcome the administration’s effort to improve and update NAFTA for the 21st century economy. The United States values its strong economic ties with Mexico and Canada, and these negotiations should work to enhance our trilateral trading relationship. Congress looks forward to working hand-in-hand with the Trump administration to achieve the best deal possible for American workers and our economy.”

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said the devil will be in the details.

“The administration’s formal announcement that it intends to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement offers potential for progress, but a good outcome is far from guaranteed. While the president has called NAFTA the worst trade deal in history, his administration has given conflicting signals as to its priorities, raising the prospect that some of NAFTA’s most problematic elements could remain intact,” Trumka said.

“Working people have set a high standard for the deep reforms we are seeking in new trade deals and policies: we must elevate and effectively enforce workers’ rights and environmental standards, eliminate excessive corporate privileges, prioritize good jobs and safeguard democracy. This is the standard we will use to judge any renegotiation. The labor movement has been working to reform America’s flawed trade policies for more than a quarter-century, and we will continue to fight to fix a trade deal that has wreaked havoc on working families across North America.”

Bob Martinez Jr., president of the International Association of Machinists, posted this statement:

“NAFTA represents the failed trade model that we warned about. Since its implementation, hundreds of thousands workers in the U.S. and Canada have lost their jobs as company after company have moved production to Mexico, a country where fundamental human rights do not exist. NAFTA should be dissolved immediately. If policymakers insist on renegotiating it, real and enforceable labor standards based on ILO Conventions must be included in the core of the agreement, investor to state dispute mechanisms must be deleted and rules of origin must be strong. Among other things, Mexico must demonstrate that fundamental human rights are enforced and effective, before enjoying the benefits of the trade agreement.”

Bob Cash of the Texas Fair Trade Coalition passed along a link for citizens to sign a petition calling for a “fair version” of NAFTA. Click here to view the petition.