Mexican authorities don't want NAFTA to stop at sectors like aerospace. They'd like more integration on energy, e-commerce and other areas as they reform their economy. Pictured: Students at the Universidad Aeronautica de Queretaro, or UNAQ. Photo by Trevor Williams

With the 90-day clock ticking before a NAFTA renegotiation begins in earnest Aug. 16, a top Mexican diplomat made a brief stop in Georgia to highlight his country’s case for preserving the embattled pact. 

Newly confirmed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently kicked off the countdown with a letter to Congress, and Mexico is pulling out all stops to spell out for lawmakers the mutual benefits of modernizing the pact rather than scrapping it.

En route to Washington, Mexican Under Secretary for North America Carlos Sada Solana paused in Atlanta for a breakfast briefing hosted by the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia. 

The diplomat, who served as Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S. until just after President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, said informed talks about e-commerce, environmental issues and labor mobility are crucial to any NAFTA overhaul. 

He added that while he understands concerns about the trade deficit between the countries, updating the pact can help with that, especially given the reforms that are already under way across the border.  

“We understand the administration’s position about reducing trade deficit with us. We want to tell the U.S. that there are many ways of tackling this,” said Mr. Sada. 

While NAFTA has certainly created synergies in auto sector and enhanced regional competitiveness, Mr. Sada highlighted Mexican energy reforms as a great opportunity for the U.S. to compensate for its trade deficit in goods. 

Indeed Georgia has seen bilateral trade with Mexico growing at a whopping 544 percent to reach $10 billion over the last two decades, an average annual growth rate of 10.2 percent. 

“We have to make sure that there are no setbacks to such trajectories,” he said pointing out that Georgia is keen to retain its share of 150,000 direct jobs tied to US-Mexico bilateral trade and investment.

While services wouldn’t show up in the trade figures, he also pointed to potentially greater access to Mexico’s banking and e-commerce sectors.

Mexico, like many other nations, wants clarity on the fate of NAFTA and worries about the potential imposition of border taxes, as Mr. Trump threatened on the campaign trail. The country is walking lockstep with Canada in aiming to persuade the U.S. that they will only accept a trilateral “win-win-win” as Mr. Sada puts it. Other officials have said that tariffs and quotas are a non-starter in discussions. 

But given the American administration’s volatility, Mexico is working to avoid arm-twisting scenarios by diversifying its options. 

 “We have free trade deals with 46 nations and we are expanding negotiations with 11 new nations that would have joined the Trans Pacific Partnership. We are also seeking agriculture imports from other South American partners,” Mr. Sada said.   

He also reiterated that a NAFTA overhaul would have to be accompanied by more comprehensive talks on immigration, security and labor mobility. 

“We are equipping our consulate in Georgia and across USA with lawyers and (non-governmental organizations) who are experts in dealing with (Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” he pointed out. “As long as due process is being followed we want to comply.” 

On skilled immigration, he viewed favorably U.S. efforts to revamp the H-1B visa regime. “This will allow partners like us who enjoy geographical proximity to work more effectively,” he says.

With presidential elections in Mexico and U.S. midterms looming in 2018, Mr. Sada said it’s important to tackle NAFTA talks decisively. 

“Political exigencies on both sides should not impact a good trade deal.”