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Higgins to travel to Montreal for NAFTA talks

WASHINGTON — Rep. Brian Higgins will travel to Montreal this weekend to press for an improved North American Free Trade Agreement.

Negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico are sitting down to begin their sixth and last round of talks aimed at approving the trade deal.

Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, said he will press trade officials from the various countries to correct the vague language and the clear outrages in the current pact, such as one giving what he sees as unsafe Mexican trucks freedom to deliver goods in America.

At the same time, though, he said he will press to preserve what works in the agreement, such as provisions that allow Ford's Hamburg Stamping Plant to work closely with an assembly plant in Ontario.

"I think I am going to be very clear: that the new agreement needs to be explicit, and it needs to be enforceable," Higgins said.

Higgins will travel to Montreal with other members of the House Ways and Means Committee's Subcommittee on Trade. He said he plans to talk to U.S., Canadian and Mexican officials who will be doing the negotiating to make sure they know his point of view.

"The deal that was struck 25 years ago was convoluted, nebulous and does not have a real enforcement mechanism," and all of that needs to change in the renegotiated agreement, Higgins said.

Higgins and many other lawmakers from onetime factory towns have long viewed the original NAFTA as a job-killer – as does President Trump.

Nevertheless, negotiators have recently made progress toward modernizing the agreement, and all three countries have reason to do so.

Higgins pointed to the Ford Stamping Plant in Hamburg as an example of a facility that to some degree depends on free trade that ought to be preserved in a new agreement. At the same time, he said U.S. negotiators have been right to strike a harder bargain this time around to better protect American jobs from moving across the border.

"Negotiations are all about leverage," Higgins said. "I don't think the U.S. and Canada have used their leverage to the fullest extent possible in the past."

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