In a speech at MLI’s annual dinner, the Chair of the House Rules Committee outlined the role of Congress in ensuring a deal that works for all three countries in NAFTA.

By Pete Sessions, April 5, 2018

As one of the world’s leading democracies and a place where people may live in peace and freedom and prosperity under the rule of law, Canada is a crucial ally of the United States and among the world’s most vital countries.

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of sitting down in my Rules Committee office with the Canadian Ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, to discuss the US-Canada bilateral relationship and some of the issues that we currently face.

That morning, the Ambassador was gracious enough to spend an hour of his time discussing the ongoing NAFTA negotiations, Trade Promotion Authority and the role of the US Congress in America’s trade policy, as well as our countries’ joint efforts on security and intelligence sharing. On a lighter note, Ambassador MacNaughton also mentioned the Winter Olympic games and his hope that the US and Canada would meet again in the Hockey Gold Medal Game this year. He was quick to remind me that the last time our two nations met on that stage, Team Canada beat Team USA in overtime. Now Texans are known for two things – our confidence, and our lack of hockey knowledge, which means that while I don’t know much about ice hockey, I was absolutely sure the United States would win gold this time. (As it happens, it was a rare occasion where neither team made the final.)

Sports aside, it was a very productive meeting and I look forward to again hosting Ambassador MacNaughton at the Rules Committee as we continue to jointly work on trade issues and further improve US-Canadian relations.

Canada is a crucial ally of the United States and among the world’s most vital countries.

During the meeting, I was also struck by something the Ambassador mentioned about his family, specifically his grandfather, and I asked the Ambassador if I could share the following story.

As a US citizen originally born in the United States, Ambassador MacNaughton’s grandfather crossed our northern border in 1915 and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in World War One. As one of the roughly 40,000 Americans who served in the Canadian military during this time, he proudly fought in defence of our shared values of freedom, democracy, and liberty.

After three long years of service, sometimes serving side-by-side with soldiers from the American Expeditionary Forces, he returned to Canada and later settled in Hamilton to raise his family. The Ambassador’s grandfather was a proud American-Canadian citizen whose grandson would one day rise to serve as Ambassador for his adopted country in the country of his birth.

I share this story because I believe it shows just how close the United States and Canada truly are. Canada has no greater friend, partner, or ally than the United States; and the United States has no closer friend, partner, or ally than Canada. The US-Canadian relationship is one that is grounded in our shared values; our desire to build a prosperous future for citizens on both sides of the border; and our common commitment to security and economic prosperity at home and abroad.

Today, we sit at a critically unique time between our two countries. Soon, decisions will be made that will greatly affect the United States, Canada, and our shared relationship.

In renegotiating NAFTA, we can choose one of two paths. We can either turn back the clock, and return to a time of strict protectionism and anti-trade policy. Or we can work to strengthen the bridges that unite us, accelerate shared economic growth, and promote mutually beneficial trade policies that Ronald Reagan would have been proud of.

Today, we sit at a critically unique time between our two countries. Soon, decisions will be made that will greatly affect the United States, Canada, and our shared relationship.

I am a Ronald Reagan Republican. I believe in free trade for the same reasons President Reagan believed in free trade – good trade agreements help grow economies, lower prices for consumers, and create good-paying jobs.

Look no further than my home state of Texas, where trade has been at the cornerstone of our continued economic growth. In 2016 alone, thanks to NAFTA-based trade with Canada, Texas exported $832 million in goods north of the border and supported almost 460,000 jobs in the state – including 23,000 in my congressional district. NAFTA is so important to Texas that the American Enterprise Institute estimates that my state would lose over 150,000 jobs if the US were to withdraw from NAFTA.

In fact, Canada is the top destination for US exports, with the amount of goods and services travelling north almost doubling what we send to China, and vastly outweighing countries such as Japan, the UK, and South Korea.

Over the past year, I have been closely engaged with the Trump administration on trade issues and NAFTA. As Chairman of the House Rules Committee with jurisdiction over trade-related legislation, I have met with our Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Secretaries Ross and Perry, and my colleagues including Speaker Ryan and Chairmen Brady, Chabot, and Royce, to discuss how Congress can best guide, support, and most importantly provide feedback on the NAFTA renegotiation process.

We are in uncharted territory. We presently have a successful binding agreement with our second and third largest trading partners that the president wants to renegotiate. Absent the United States unilaterally withdrawing from NAFTA, if Canada and Mexico don’t agree to any renegotiations, the existing agreement won’t be changed. While it appears that the President has the unilateral ability to terminate international agreements, the explicit repeal of the statutory provisions that implement NAFTA would likely require congressional assent.

There is no question that the president is entitled to engage with our trading partners. Thus far, he’s followed the appropriate process under Trade Promotion Authority, which is a partnership between Congress and the executive branch that empowers the executive to negotiate and implement trade agreements.

On May 18, 2017, pursuant to TPA, the President sent Congress a 90-day notification of his intent to begin talks with Canada and Mexico to renegotiate NAFTA, and the US Trade Representative submitted detailed negotiating objectives 30 days prior to the start of negotiations on July 17. While these negotiations have not yet concluded, an agreement must be struck before Congress has the opportunity to consider it. After all, the Constitution gives Congress the authority to regulate trade with foreign nations, and Congress will play that constitutional role through this process.

There are some modifications to NAFTA that can be made unilaterally by the President under existing statutory authority, while other proclamations are subject to the requirements of TPA. In these instances, the President must strive to adhere to both general and specific negotiating objectives as outlined under TPA, which means for Congress to approve these changes, the President must follow our statutory guidelines as well as gain the consent of our trading partners. If he were to follow these guidelines, which include a number of procedural requirements designed to ensure that Congress is notified in a timely manner of the administration’s proposed changes to NAFTA, then Congress would consider a renegotiated NAFTA as agreed to by the three parties and would agree not to amend the negotiation. As the Chairman of the Rules Committee and a member of the House Advisory Group on Negotiations, it is my belief that Congress would be unlikely to support changes to NAFTA that are not satisfactory to Canada and Mexico.

Canada and Mexico have their own parliamentary processes for approving a renegotiated NAFTA. Under Canada’s treaty process and practice, the text of the agreement must be tabled in the House of Commons for 21 days, and after that time the implementing legislation can be considered in Parliament. The House and Senate would debate and consider that language, but it is up to the cabinet to approve the decision to table the implementing language. Under Mexican law, NAFTA renegotiation would be treated like a treaty, which must be ratified by a simple majority of its Senate.

It is my belief that Congress would be unlikely to support changes to NAFTA that are not satisfactory to Canada and Mexico.

Ultimately, any update or change to US trade policy should be for the benefit of American trade agreements as a whole. It should not rest upon on one or two explicit areas of potential disagreement, or, even worse, seek to close markets, raise tariffs and prices, and hinder America’s relationship with our partners.

Considering the completion of the sixth round of NAFTA talks, I look forward to continuing my work with the administration and sharing a message of free trade, shared opportunity, and stronger economic partnerships with our allies.

For the past two hundred and fifty years, Americans and Canadians have shared a common bond and a common border. As with any relationship between two brothers, there can be bumps in the road and issues that flare up. But, this is not what defines us or our relationship.

We are a common people who seek the same things; freedom, security, and economic prosperity. Personally, I will never forget the actions of Canadians on September 11, 2001, when your country so graciously opened its borders to thousands of Americans who had been stranded due to the attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. In our time of need, Canada was there for the United States.

Finally, I look back to President Ronald Reagan and his early thoughts on a unique North American partnership. In 1979, as candidate for President, Reagan said: “We live on a continent whose three countries possess the assets to make it the strongest, most prosperous, and self-sufficient area on Earth. Within the borders of this North American continent are the food, resources, technology, and undeveloped territory which, properly managed, could dramatically improve the quality of life of all its inhabitants.

A developing closeness between the United States, Canada, and Mexico would serve notice on friends and foe alike that we are prepared for a long haul, looking outward again and confident of our future; that together we are going to create jobs, generate new fortunes of wealth for many, and provide a lasting legacy for the children of each of our countries.”

This is what I truly believe when it comes to our relationship and the great potential it still has. Simply put, as long as our two countries continue to work together as brothers, the United States will continue to be here for our Canadian allies, and we will continue to grow what is one of the world’s most successful and most important relationships.

Pete Sessions is the US Congressman representing the 32nd District of Texas and Chairman of the House Committee on Rules.