Trump team: NAFTA talks can start August 16

Mexico: Tariffs would be a deal breaker on NAFTA
Mexico: Tariffs would be a deal breaker on NAFTA

Start the countdown: President Trump's team can officially start trade talks with Canada and Mexico on August 16 to renegotiate NAFTA.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made that point Wednesday.

"That's when the formal negotiations can get going," Ross said at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a DC think tank. Ross did not clarify if talks would in fact begin on August 16.

The U.S. has to wait 90 days after Trump officially notified Congress of his intent to renegotiate. He sent that letter on May 18.

President Trump campaigned heavily against NAFTA, the free trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. He blames it for the loss of millions of US manufacturing jobs.

Trump promised to get a new deal that would bring manufacturing jobs back or withdraw from NAFTA.

Ross is keenly aware the U.S. doesn't have time to spare. Mexico has presidential elections in July 2018 and campaigns will get going early next year. The leading candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, promises to also get tough on trade with the U.S.

All this adds urgency to finish talks with current Mexican leaders.

Related: Trump pulls the 90-day trigger on NAFTA talks

"We probably have the best window from now till December or January," Ross said.

Ross has cooled down the administration's rhetoric on NAFTA this year, even though he did get tough on Canada, slapping a 20% tariff on Canadian lumber.

That issue aside, Ross said Americans should not expect a new NAFTA to be a "silver bullet" for saving jobs. He noted that many factory jobs have been lost due to automation.

"No one is saying this is the silver bullet that solves everything for the country," Ross said. "Not all the unemployment problems...are the result of NAFTA or any other trade agreement, some of them are due to increased automation."

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