DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And so today was supposed to be the deadline for Mexico, Canada and the U.S. to have wrapped up negotiations on a new NAFTA trade deal.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Right. But things are reportedly hung up in several key areas. And a lot of experts think this delay is going to make reaching an agreement this year all that much harder.
GREENE: I talked to Carla Hills about this. She was the U.S. trade representative when the original NAFTA deal was negotiated under the first President Bush. And she reminded me of the stakes. Canada and Mexico together constitute a third of America's global trade. And I asked her about the current administration's goals for these talks.
So President Trump is presenting the changes he wants as a way to protect American jobs and American companies. Does he have an argument at all that some of these changes are necessary to do that?
CARLA HILLS: Well, certainly we need to upgrade the NAFTA, which is 25 years old. But we don't want to tear it down and make it more protectionist so that our integrated supply chains that have made us the most productive and competitive region in the world are lost.
GREENE: It sounds like Mexico is particularly upset about a U.S. demand for a sunset clause that would allow negotiations to reopen every five years. Why would that be such a sticking point for Mexico?
HILLS: I think it would be a sticking point for anyone who wants to be engaged in commerce. You can't have a contract where you say you don't know whether it's going to be enforced five years hence. You want to make an investment as a Mexican in a bakery concern in the United States, and it takes you time to build the building and to get all your workers together. And it may not be governed by the trade rules five years hence? It won't work. That uncertainty won't work.
GREENE: You, as I mentioned, were the lead negotiator for NAFTA working for a Republican president. As you listen to this Republican president talk about NAFTA - President Trump - I mean, has the GOP moved away from its free trade philosophy?
HILLS: I think that our institutions that support trade are under considerable duress. I worked for George Herbert Walker Bush, who really believed that opening the markets created great opportunities for Americans. And he understood that by creating economic bonds, we also enhanced our security. You know, people in America have been told repeatedly that trade takes their jobs. That is an incorrect statement. But there is anxiety out there that jobs are at risk, that their wages are stagnant and international competition is the problem.
And I think we have to do two things. I think we have to have a domestic program that helps workers who have been dislodged because of technology to move to the 6 million jobs that we have open and to provide the kind of training that those 6 million jobs require. We have to really deal with our human infrastructure just as we have a need with our physical infrastructure. And we have been deficient in doing that.
GREENE: So what happens now? I mean, if there is not some sort of deal, does the president then have to decide if he lives with NAFTA as it is or if he follows through on his promise to pull out? Is that where things would stand?
HILLS: Well, he'll have a number of choices. He could just delay and try to address the renegotiation, probably in 2019. And I would hope that in the interim, business leaders, Rotary Clubs, mayors, workers would get out and explain to the president why the North American Free Trade Agreement is so important to the economic interests of our country.
GREENE: Do you take this personally as the person who literally led the negotiations for the United States on this deal? As you watch...
HILLS: Not at all. I'm an American. And I want the best deal for the United States. We have to keep in mind - what is America's interest? - and particularly with the NAFTA. You know, we are so blessed with an ocean on the east and the west and two wonderful neighbors north and south. Do we really want hostile neighbors to our north and south? It's a unique situation we have with respect to our security and our prosperity. Let's keep it.
GREENE: Carla Hills, thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
HILLS: My pleasure.
GREENE: She was the lead U.S. negotiator for the original NAFTA deal, and she now heads Hills & Company International Consultants. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.