DETROIT -- A panel of trade experts on Wednesday urged auto suppliers to mobilize politically and rescue the North American Free Trade Agreement as negotiations with Canada and Mexico continue to sour over hard-line U.S. positions.
"The U.S. productive sector -- from agriculture to technology to autos -- has to raise its voice together and just say this agreement works for our benefit and it needs to be maintained," Kellie Meiman, managing partner at Washington, D.C.-based McLarty Associates and a former U.S. trade negotiator, said during a breakfast discussion here organized by Automotive News.
The message needs to be simple and clear, leaving rules of origin and other details to be hashed out later, she added.
The automotive supply chains that have evolved over the past 23 years under duty-free shipping rules that encourage cross-border investment are in jeopardy from a Trump administration focused on economic nationalism and reducing the manufacturing trade deficit.
Private sector interests now realize they can't convince the White House of NAFTA's economic benefits and are looking toward Congress as a bulwark against any potential attempt to withdraw from NAFTA.
Meiman said automakers, suppliers and other industries must band together and make the case to members of Congress, especially those on the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, and delegations from states that rely heavily on trade with Mexico and Canada.
Congress could hold the keys to any ultimate disposition of NAFTA because even if President Donald Trump executes a withdrawal provision, only Congress could unravel domestic laws that implemented U.S. obligations, but how such an unprecedented process would unfold is legally murky, according to trade attorneys.
Emilio Cadena, CEO of Mexican auto consultancy Grupo Prodensa, also urged suppliers to make their case to governors, who often wield political power that presidents respond to.
"Support your associations on the lobbying effort. Activate your local congressman to make sure they protect you," he said.
Canadian Tier 1 supplier Magna International has met with U.S. senators, congressmen and governors, Scott Paradise, vice president of marketing and business development for the Americas, remarked from the audience.
The experts said NAFTA supporters also need to be more vocal in their advocacy because lobbying quietly behind the scenes has not worked.