WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican governors from four U.S. states on Thursday met with Vice President Mike Pence to voice deep concerns over proposed changes to NAFTA that could affect jobs and manufacturing in their states, officials who attended the meeting said.
The meeting at the White House included Governors Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Bill Haslam of Tennessee and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, as well as President Donald Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
After the meeting, Pence, also a former governor of Indiana tweeted: “great discussion…about how @POTUS’ priorities of pro-growth tax cuts & better trade deals will result in MORE JOBS & stronger US manufacturing.”
Reynolds emphasized during the meeting the importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement to Iowa’s farmers and manufacturers while expressing support for an updated NAFTA, her spokeswoman Brenna Smith said later. “The governors had a healthy discussion, but the conversation is ongoing,” Smith added.
Arkansas’ Hutchinson said in a statement afterwards that the United States should be careful not to harm global trade as it revises NAFTA. “The administration was clear that it wants to be able to negotiate a better NAFTA deal for American manufacturers and workers,” Hutchinson said.
“I respect that negotiating position, but my message is that Arkansas must be able to continue its access to North American markets unimpeded by trade barriers. Otherwise, there will be serious harm to Arkansas agriculture, and retail and manufacturing sectors.”
On Tuesday, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, accompanied by representatives from Subaru , Fiat Chrysler, Honda, General Motors and Toyota also met with Pence to discuss NAFTA, the Republican governor’s office said.
In a letter to Lighthizer in October, Holcomb urged the administration to safeguard the trade relations with Canada and Mexico, especially in the car industry. He emphasized that the auto industry represented about $2 billion in exports and 100,000 jobs in Indiana in 2016.
Both Mexico and Canada have pushed back at demands by the Trump administration during negotiations that would require regional content for autos be raised to 85 percent from 62.5 percent, with 50 percent of the content coming produced in the United States.
Neither Canada nor Mexico have offered counterproposals but have argued that the U.S. demands would cause serious damage to North American automotive manufacturing.
The meetings this week took place as NAFTA negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico met behind closed doors at a downtown Washington hotel to update the decades-old accord, which Trump has blamed for American job losses and big trade deficits for his country.