NAFTA for the 21st Century: Politics and Policy of Renegotiation

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07/28/2017 @ 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm


In the decades following World War II, a broad, bipartisan consensus formed about the benefits of relatively free trade and expanded economic interdependence. While some on the political left and right opposed this development, policymakers in Washington continued pushing for more trade liberalization. Given the rise of heated anti-trade rhetoric from leading politicians, the high tide of free trade may be receding.

It’s been 23 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. With the rise of the internet, commerce has changed, but NAFTA hasn’t. NAFTA went into effect in 1994, a year before Amazon or eBay launched. People still bought compact discs rather than digital downloads. E-commerce wasn’t well-established or nearly as economically significant as it is today. While other free trade agreements contemplate digital transactions and related issues like intermediary liability, NAFTA does not. Modernizing NAFTA to cover these issues could set a beneficial precedent for future trade agreements.

NAFTA was the first trade agreement to implement comprehensive protection of intellectual property. In 2017, there are strong incentives to modernize these protections and tackle such issues as piracy and digital IP enforcement. While this is an important function, there’s a lot that could go wrong – recalling bitter fights like the one over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). Going too far on enforcement measures could erect new barriers to legitimate trade, or benefit a small number of companies at the expense of other sectors of the U.S. economy. Not going far enough would mean missing an opportunity to modernize rules for the digital age. Striking the right balance will require careful negotiation by the Trump administration.

With the administration’s recent notification of its intent to renegotiate NAFTA, trade policy will be front and center of the political debate in the coming months. We invite you to join us for a discussion of the politics and policy surrounding NAFTA modernization, moderated by R Street’s Clark Packard.


  • Brandon Arnold, Executive Vice President, National Taxpayers Union
  • Farzaneh Badiei, Ph.D., Executive Director, Internet Governance Project; Research Associate, School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Claude Barfield, Ph.D., Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
  • Simon Lester, Trade Policy Analyst, Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies, Cato Institute
  • Matt Schruers, Vice President of Law & Policy, Computer & Communications Industry Association
  • Clark Packard, Policy Analyst, R Street Institute (Moderator)
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