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U.S. trade relationships need an 'upgrade': Pritzker

Penny Pritzker testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be Commerc
Penny Pritzker testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be Commerc

By Christine Murray and Julia Symmes Cobb

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other U.S. trade relationships are outdated and need an "upgrade", U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said on Tuesday during a trade visit to Mexico.

Attitudes toward labor and the environment as well as e-commerce and new technology have shifted trade concerns since NAFTA was signed, so the U.S. government is focusing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would establish a free-trade bloc stretching from Vietnam to Chile, she said.

"NAFTA was a groundbreaking agreement 20 years ago and it has served all of the North American countries well," Pritzker said of the 1994 treaty between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. "But now it's time to be looking at how can we upgrade our trade relationships."

Mexico and the U.S. are two of 12 countries negotiating the TPP, which would encompass about 800 million people and almost 40 percent of the global economy.

The Obama administration is seeking the authority to fast-track trade deals, like the TPP, to reassure the 11 other countries involved that any agreement, once signed, would not be changed later by Congress.

When asked whether there was any push to change the NAFTA agreement specifically, Pritzker replied that the administration was focused on getting TPP done.

Pritzker, a businesswoman and heiress to the Hyatt Hotel fortune who has been a prolific fundraiser for U.S. President Barack Obama, is in Mexico on a five-day trade mission along with representatives from 17 U.S. companies, ranging from railroads to the medical supply industry.

Many of those companies are interested in opportunities presented by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's raft of economic reforms passed last year, which spans telecoms to energy and taxes.

(Reporting by Christine Murray and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Simon Gardner and Diane Craft)

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