The University of California and its partners today (Nov. 17) released a roadmap for negotiators working to modernize and strengthen the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as the fifth round of NAFTA negotiations kicked off in Mexico City.

The white paper is the product of a high-level gathering of North American government and business leaders, diplomats and trade scholars convened in September by UC, Tecnológico de Monterrey, the largest not-for-profit private university in Mexico, the Progressive Policy Institute and COMEXI (the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations).

Noting widespread agreement that NAFTA requires key reforms after 23 years, the paper outlines a set of core principles and policies that government leaders and trade experts believe are critical to overcoming roadblocks in the negotiations and building an updated trade agreement that enhances regional cooperation and competitiveness.

“The economic and political stakes of these negotiations have never been higher,” said UC President Janet Napolitano, who co-chaired the September forum. “In today’s fraught political climate, it’s essential that Congress, state and regional governments, negotiators and experts come together to craft an agreement for the 21st century that protects workers, increases economic investment and enhances cross-border cooperation.”

“Politics has the power to break apart relationships and opportunities but we have also been able, because of the politics of NAFTA, to bring together more human capital, more goodwill, more ideas and more opportunities for development than probably any other region that the world has ever seen before,” said Alejandro Poiré, forum co-chair and dean of the School of Social Sciences and Government at Tecnológico de Monterrey.

Among other findings, the paper calls for the adoption of modern rules for cross-border data flows, e-commerce, digital security and privacy, and for the modernization of regional infrastructure and transportation to take advantage of the conventional and renewable energy boom taking place across North America.

The paper underscores the need to incorporate provisions that protect workers, particularly in regions that are harmed disproportionately by changes in trade and production patterns, and to improve labor standards.

“The Trump administration needs to set aside its bellicose rhetoric and recognize that the NAFTA reforms outlined in this paper, including rules for digital trade, customs clearance and regulatory coherence, will greatly benefit American businesses and workers for generations to come,” said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute.

The September NAFTA forum was an outgrowth of the UC-Mexico Initiative, launched by Napolitano in 2014 to foster sustained, strategic partnerships between UC and institutions in Mexico around topics of mutual concern, such as trade and education.

The full white paper is available here