Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): What Actions Do Not Require Congressional Approval? Page: 2 of 2
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legislative consideration; and the NAFTA Implementation Act, which implemented the agreement in domestic law. By
contrast to the lack of a clear statutory requirement governing Congress's role in the amendment of NAFTA, the law
implementing the World Trade Organization agreements specifically addresses Congress's role in amendments to those
Article 2202 of NAFTA, which Congress approved in the NAFTA Implementation Act, provides that "[t]he Parties may
agree on any modification of or addition to this Agreement." It further provides that "when so agreed, and approved in
accordance with the applicable legal procedures of each Party, a modification or addition shall constitute an integral part
of this Agreement." However, NAFTA does not specify whether the "applicable legal procedures" of the United States
include approval of amendments by Congress. In addition, neither the text of the agreement, the context in which it
appears, nor the subsequent practice of the NAFTA parties sheds light on the meaning of this phrase.
In the past, the executive branch has negotiated limited changes to NAFTA not involving formal amendment and
implemented these changes in domestic law without Congress enacting additional legislation. For example, changes to
NAFTA's rules of origin appear to have been implemented by presidential proclamation pursuant to existing statutory
authority in the NAFTA-implementing law. This implementation followed congressional consultation but not specific
legislative approval. Congress has also delegated authority to the President to adjust tariffs in various provisions of
federal law (detailed in this CRS Report), including Section 201(b) of the NAFTA Implementation Act, Section 125(c)
of the Trade Act of 1974, and Section 103 of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of
2015. However, these provisions establish conditions and limitations on the exercise of this delegated tariff authority
that may limit their usefulness in the implementation of a renegotiated agreement. It is unclear whether the President
could implement a renegotiated agreement on other matters (e.g., border security and dispute settlement provisions)
under existing authority without Congress making changes to U.S. statutory law.
While the NAFTA-implementing law and the agreement itself appear to contemplate limited changes to certain aspects
of the agreement and their implementation in domestic law (e.g., tariff rates and rules of origin) without further
legislative approval, an agreement requiring changes to federal statute, or which otherwise makes major changes to
NAFTA, would likely require congressional assent. The Constitution gives Congress specific authority over
international trade, including powers to impose and collect tariffs and duties and to regulate international commerce.
U.S. free trade agreements, including NAFTA, have historically been approved and implemented as congressional-
executive agreements by a majority vote of each house of Congress. In the NAFTA-implementing law, Congress
approved NAFTA as it existed in 1993. Accordingly, major changes to the agreement would arguably require legislative
approval. Furthermore, the President arguably lacks the authority to terminate the domestic effect of federal statutes
implementing NAFTA without going through the full legislative process for repeal.
Historical practice supports this view. NAFTA superseded, to a large extent, the prior U.S.-Canada Free Trade
Agreement. When Congress approved NAFTA, it amended the act implementing the prior U.S.-Canada free trade
agreement to suspend certain provisions in the act while allowing others to continue to operate. Nevertheless, the
President might argue that he could enter into and implement amendments to NAFTA without congressional approval
because such amendments did not require changes to U.S. statutory law. In that event, Congress's enactment of a
resolution expressing its opposition to the agreement might make a court more likely to refrain from giving the
agreement legal effect.
Posted at 01/26/2017 03:10 PM
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Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service. Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA): What Actions Do Not Require Congressional Approval?, report, January 26, 2017; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1042298/m1/2/?rotate=90: accessed March 25, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.