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North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

A trading bloc in North America that includes the US, Canada and Mexico

Written by

CFI Team

Published April 7, 2023

Updated July 7, 2023

What is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)?

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an agreement that brought together three North American countries, i.e., the United States, Canada, and Mexico, to form a trading bloc in North America. The agreement aimed to reduce trading costs and make North America a competitive trading bloc in the global market place.

NAFTA is the world’s largest trade agreement, with the three member countries reporting a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $20 trillion. Through the agreement, the three signatory members agreed to remove the trading barriers that existed among them and increase investment opportunities for small- and medium-enterprises (SMEs) in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.


The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a trade agreement that took effect on January 1, 1994, and it encourages trade between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The agreement phased out most of the tariff and non-tariff trade barriers that existed among the trading countries.

NAFTA is the biggest free trade agreement in the world, with the gross domestic product of participating countries exceeding $20 trillion.

History of the North American Free Trade Agreement

The idea of establishing the North American free trade zone was first proposed by US President Ronald Reagan as part of his presidential campaign in 1980. President Reagan’s proposal was inspired by the success of the European Economic Community that stimulated trading activities among its member countries.

Proponents of the North American free trade area argued that the free trade zone would increase trade and production for businesses and create millions of jobs in the member countries. Participating countries would also benefit from a reduction or elimination of trade barriers that existed between the three countries.

The talk for a common trade zone was initiated in 1985 by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney with a proposal to formulate a Canada-US free trade agreement. The negotiations commenced in 1986, and the two countries signed the agreement in 1988. The Canada-US agreement came into effect on January 1, 1989.

In 1990, then Mexican President Carlos Salinas initiated discussions with the United States to join the North American free trade zone. Consequently, Reagan’s successor, President George Bush, began negotiations in 1991 for a North American trade agreement that would bring together the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

In 1992, President Bush (US), Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (Canada), and President Salinas (Mexico) signed the North American Free Trade Agreement. The parties also signed two supplemental agreements on labor and environmental protection. The legislatures of the three countries ratified the agreement in 1993, and it became active on January 1, 1994.

Highlights/Provisions of NAFTA

The following are the key provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement:

1. Tariff elimination for qualifying goods

Before NAFTA, goods exported to Mexico attracted tariffs of 30% or higher, with US-produced goods being charged higher tariffs than the duties imposed on Mexican goods exported to the United States. NAFTA addressed the trade imbalance by removing some of the tariffs immediately, with other tariffs being phased out over a duration of 15 years.

Imports from participating countries were given the “Favored Nation” status, which banned any states or provincial governments from imposing tariffs on such goods. The agreement ensured duty-free access to a vast number of areas, such as construction, engineering, manufactured goods, consulting, health care management, accounting, etc.

2. Establishment of standards

The signatories of NAFTA also recommended putting in place standards on health, safety, and industry. The members also agreed to increase the speed of export-product inspections and certifications at the border and eliminate the use of national standards as a barrier to trade.

The agreement also provided administrative, civil, and criminal penalties that would be imposed on businesses that violated any of the agreed custom procedures and standards requirements.

3. Elimination of non-tariff barriers

Apart from the elimination of tariffs, the signatories of NAFTA agreed to streamline border processing and licensing requirements and reduce the waiting time for goods clearance. Member countries agreed to open up their border and interior to other members to ease trading activities.

4. Supplemental agreements

NAFTA included two main supplemental agreements that addressed concerns that businesses would relocate their production and manufacturing facilities to other participating countries to exploit lower wages and lenient worker health and safety regulations.

The first agreement was the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) that protected factory workers from potential job losses. The second agreement was the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). The NAAEC was signed to address environmental concerns by environmentalists on the potential impacts of rapid industrialization in Mexico due to its lack of experience in enforcing environmental regulations.

5. Protection of intellectual property rights

NAFTA also included provisions that increased protection of intellectual property rights, such as computer software and chemical production. Participating countries agreed to enforce rules that would protect the intellectual property rights of other members and take punitive measures against industrial theft.

6. Trade dispute resolution

The trade agreement provided rules for resolving trade disputes between investors, businesses, and participating countries. The agreement required traders to promote fair competition and uphold all regulations of the treaty.

The NAFTA Secretariat is tasked with taking measures to resolve disputes between businesses. If parties are not satisfied with the outcome of the process, the Secretariat establishes a panel to review the dispute and ensure the parties reach an amicable solution.

Criticisms of NAFTA

One of the criticisms of NAFTA centers on the destruction of American jobs. Critics argue that the agreement resulted in US jobs relocating to Mexico, even after participating countries signed the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation.

Additional Resources

CFI offers the Commercial Banking & Credit Analyst (CBCA)™ certification program for those looking to take their careers to the next level. To keep learning and developing your knowledge base, please explore the additional relevant resources below:

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North American Bancard Review And Pricing 2023

North American Bancard Editor’s Score: 8.1/10

Pricing and fees


Customer service


Third-party integrations


Payment options


Added POS tools


Why We Chose North American Bancard as the Best Credit Card Processor for Fast Setup 

North American Bancard promises an easy application process, fast approval, and straightforward setup for businesses that want to start accepting credit card payments. Notably, unlike many competitors, North American Bancard will work with businesses in high-risk industries, including CBD, debt collection, peptides, telemedicine and credit repair.

Additionally, we like that the company offers next-day funding with cut-off times as late as 12 a.m. EST. You can also choose from various free equipment options upon signup to get up and running with credit card processing immediately. For these reasons, North American Bancard is our pick for the best credit card processor for fast setup. 

Did You Know?

Other credit card processors that work with nontraditional businesses include Helcim, Square and Stax. Read our review of Helcim, our Square review and our review of Stax to learn more.

North American Bancard focuses on simplifying the payments process.  Source: North American Bancard

What We Like About North American Bancard

North American Bancard is willing to work with high-risk industries. 

The processor promises fast approval, an easy setup process and free equipment. 

What We Don’t Like About North American Bancard

North American Bancard does not disclose its full range of processing rates. 

The company’s offerings lack some of the bells and whistles of competitors that provide integrated POS and credit card processing solutions. 

Ease of Use

North American Bancard uses a merchant portal called Payments Hub as its customer-facing software. We liked the user interface — it’s well-designed and intuitive, with a modern and sleek dashboard featuring collapsible menus. 

From the Payments Hub main screen, you can easily view data analytics and key statistics like gross sales, transactions, refunds, disputes, and other recent activities. You’ll also access the virtual terminal, invoicing, and other tools from the main screen. We believe business owners and their employees won’t face a steep learning curve when using Payments Hub for the first time. 

North American Bancard’s merchant portal is called Payments Hub. Source: North American Bancard

North American Bancard Features

North American Bancard offers several services and features that businesses of all sizes will find valuable, especially those seeking flexibility. Here’s an overview of North American Bancard’s key features. 


Small business data analytics can paint a picture of what is going on with your business, and we liked Payments Hub’s reporting feature for this reason. Here you can view data on gross sales, transactions, average transaction amount and more. You can also run and export reports using various preset or custom fields. One particularly neat feature is that you can sort your employees by various factors, including sales, discounts, tips and more. 

Virtual Terminal 

You’ll find the virtual terminal on Payments Hub. This is where you can manually key in credit card information. For businesses that want to accept credit card payments over the phone, the virtual terminal tool is indispensable. We liked that you can also use this feature with a card reader to accept payments with a physical credit card. 

Payments Hub’s virtual terminal allows you to enter transactions manually. Source: North American Bancard


If you’re looking to create an online store, Payments Hub’s developer portal provides the resources you need to create a payment solution on your website, even if you don’t have web design prowess. We liked that more tech-savvy business owners can integrate North American Bancard’s processing services into their online stores to add checkout functionality, integrate terminals with internal software, process payments on WooCommerce, and more. 


If you’re integrating with WooCommerce, consider using WooCommerce plug-ins to boost sales. For example, create custom product tabs and automate abandoned shopping cart emails.

Did You Know?

While cash may be a convenient payment form for specific businesses, going cashless can save time and speed up checkout lines at a POS terminal.


High-risk businesses may also consider ProMerchant for their credit card processing due to its high approval rates. Read our full review of ProMerchant to learn more.


We researched and analyzed leading credit card processors to find the best credit card processors for small businesses. We investigated by exploring demos and free trials, carefully examining user reviews, and interacting with each vendor’s customer service team. We looked at the usability of each company’s hardware and software offerings, as well as how fair the contract terms are to merchants. Additionally, we scrutinized the rates and fees each processor charges. To identify the best credit card processor for fast setup, we paid particular attention to the application process, ease of approval and free equipment provisions. 

FAQs How long does North American Bancard take to fund accounts?

North American Bancard funds accounts as quickly as the next day. 

Can you cancel North American Bancard?

Yes. You can cancel North American Bancard anytime, but review your contract for any termination fees. 

Does North American Bancard accept high-risk businesses?

Yes. North American Bancard works with businesses in CBD, debt collection, peptides, telemedicine, credit repair and other high-risk industries. 

Bottom Line

We recommend North American Bancard for …

High-risk businesses that want to get started quickly with a credit card processor. 

Businesses that still deal with many cash transactions. 

We don’t recommend North American Bancard for …

Business owners that want an integrated POS and credit card processing solution. 

Merchants in search of rate transparency before they call to sign up. 

Why The North American Monsoon Is Unlike Any Other

Every continent except for Antarctica experiences seasonal rainfall events known as monsoons. Among the six yearly global monsoons, one of them is a bit of a problem child—North America’s. The watery weather typically hits Mexico and the American Southwest around summertime, delivering nourishing rains for agriculture alongside threats of flash floods and violent winds. 

“The North American monsoon has always been a little bit strange,” says William Boos, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL). It spans a smaller geographical area than the range of its mighty cousins in Asia and Africa. The North American monsoon is also weaker in rainfall, and its cyclical flip in the wind patterns is not as pronounced compared to the other monsoons around the world. “People haven’t quite known what to make of it,” Boos adds. 

[Related: The planet’s water cycle is changing rapidly. Here’s what that means for us.]

Recently, scientists have unraveled the mystique of the world’s most misunderstood monsoon. A team of researchers led by Boos discovered that what drives the North American monsoon isn’t a difference in temperatures, which fuel the other five monsoons, but topography. The researchers published their findings last November in the journal Nature. 

A typical monsoon kicks in during the summer when the land becomes hotter than the ocean. Cooler winds rush in from the seas, carrying with them moisture that will eventually torrent over the terrain. 

Boos’s team found that the recurring rains across the swath of the continent’s southernmost corners are instead triggered by the Sierra Madres and nearby mountains. As the moisture-rich jet stream streaks from west to east over the North American continent, a portion of it funnels along the mountain range’s continuous strip of higher elevation towards the south. The Sierra mountains force the wet air up into the atmosphere where the water vapor condenses into rain, thereby kickstarting the monsoon. 

The American Southwest is uniquely suited for brewing up an eccentric monsoon, thanks to its mountains’ proximity to the warm Pacific Ocean, which stretches from Earth’s upper hemisphere all the way to the equator. 

“It’s a new perspective on what ultimately causes the North American monsoon,” says Isla Simpson, a climate scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado who wasn’t involved in the study. “[The researchers] pretty convincingly show the importance of the topography.”

This monsoon mechanism has long eluded scientists who attempted to model the phenomenon on their computers. For a mountain range, the Sierras are quite narrow, so low resolution computer models aren’t precise enough to capture their topographical features in order to simulate their meteorological impact. It takes a supercomputer to construct an intricate model that includes the Sierras’ relatively gaunt features. 

Boos’s team leveraged the computational resources at LBNL’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center to reproduce the lay of the land with extremely fine resolution. Running the calculations took the researchers five million computer hours—equivalent to a supercomputer processor working for five million hours, or five million processors operating for an hour—spread over the course of around six months. When the researchers flattened the mountains in their simulations, they weren’t able to recreate the intensity of the real-life North American monsoon, even if they cranked up the land-ocean heating contrast that spurs other monsoons in the rest of the world. Without the Sierra Madres, “the rainfall in the North American monsoon is almost entirely wiped out,” says Boos. 

The results are crucial for demystifying the climate patterns that govern the hydrology of the American Southwest. The monsoon is a key source of water, bringing in over half of the total precipitation for the region each year. The reaches of its territory extend all the way to California, where lightning strikes from its storms may trigger forest fires. 

[Related: People are moving into risky flood zones—but they may not have a choice]

A clearer grasp on this present-day phenomenon may also shed light on the past. “That link between the jet stream and the topography just opens up a whole new kind of way to assess the North American Monsoon,” says Arianna Varuolo-Clarke, a climate scientist at Columbia University, New York who didn’t participate in the study. She’s curious whether the new research can be used to explain how the monsoon has evolved. “Historical records, and even some paleo records of the jet stream could maybe be [revisited] to get a better understanding of the historical variations in this monsoon system,” she says. 

Perhaps most importantly, the study may help researchers to predict water distribution in the American Southwest in the years to come. 

Scientists aren’t yet sure how the North American Monsoon might shift as the climate changes. Identifying its key drivers such as the jet stream is the first step towards assessing the climate patterns’ vulnerability. “With this new understanding of the basic physics of the system, we might be able to say something more definitive about what will happen,” says Boos. 

To the residents in the Southwest, the monsoon has always run like clockwork—steadfastly ushering in the afternoon storms during the height of summer. Nailing down what makes it tick will allow researchers to predict its fate, including whether its regularity might disappear in the face of the planet’s irresistible warming. 

Workplace Stress Costs American Businesses

More than half of U.S. employees feel stressed out at work.

Employee stress can cause low employee engagement, lack of focus and productivity, poor performance, and an increase in absences and tardiness.

Stress can also cause injuries and illnesses, creating a rise in disability claims.

This article is for managers, employees and anyone else interested in learning how stress impacts the workplace.

Stress has a major impact on workers across the globe. According to the State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report by Gallup, more than half of workers (57%) suffer from high stress on the job, and roughly 7 in 10 workers are struggling or suffering in their overall lives. Although workplace stress was already prevalent in previous years, the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted the situation as well, with 45% of people saying they have been affected “a lot” by the pandemic.

Stress is often brushed off as a normal part of life, but it can have major consequences for employers and employees if left unchecked. Learn how employee stress is impacting businesses and what you can do to reduce it.

How stress affects the workplace

Although some jobs are more stressful than others, stress can affect workers in every industry. Everyone handles stress differently, so the negative impacts of workplace stress are often displayed in different ways. It’s important to address the situation if you notice an employee begin to experience one or more of these common side effects.

Low employee engagement: Stressed employees tend to be less engaged in their work. Gallup found that 80% of people are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work, partly as the result of stress. According to Gallup, lack of engagement costs the global economy $8.1 trillion in lost productivity each year.

Lack of focus and productivity: Many employees report that they have difficulty focusing on tasks at work because of stress, which can result in lower employee productivity.

Poor employee performance: Employees may make errors and/or miss their deadlines because of stress, resulting in lower employee performance and a reduction in product and/or service quality.

Tense company culture: Stress can negatively impact your company culture. For example, stressed employees may have trouble getting along with their coworkers or superiors. Others may also be frustrated that they must pick up the slack of a stressed employee.

Increased absences or tardiness: Stress can cause employees to show up late or miss work altogether.

Injuries and illnesses: Stress takes a physical toll on the human body. For example, a medically reviewed WebMD article claims that stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety.

Rising costs of behavior disability claims

Disability costs have increased over the years, in part because of the prevalence of stress in today’s workplace. According to the Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, disability benefits were paid to over 9.5 million people in 2023. Additionally, medical doctors suggest that stress is a factor in the onset of illness underlying 75% to 90% of all visits to the family doctor.

Did You Know?

Although the unemployment level is back down to 4.2%, the pandemic, structural changes in the overall economy, and the current labor shortage have forced organizations to manage with a smaller workforce, negatively affecting workers across the globe.

Tips to relieve work stress and improve health

Though stress is a daunting, pervasive problem, there are many ways to reduce its impact on human lives and companies’ bottom lines.

1. Use employee assistance programs.

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) that include work-life services are proven to reduce employee stress, decrease absenteeism and turnover, and improve productivity. Furthermore, research has shown that EAPs directly reduce disability claims.

“Organizations looking to compete in a volatile marketplace are proactively addressing stress – this can enhance employee well-being and therefore engagement,” said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, chairman and CEO of ComPsych, in a statement published alongside a ComPsych survey. “Leveraging the employee assistance program is an important step in dealing with workplace stress. A comprehensive EAP not only provides individual counseling but organizational consulting on change management, team building, and interpersonal skill development.”

2. Track your stress levels.

The American Psychological Association recommends that workers track their stressors for at least a week. In a journal, write down situations where you felt your stress level increase. Record the circumstances of the incident. Where were you? Who were you with? How did you respond to the situation? Did you raise your voice? Did you retreat from the situation? Knowing what got you stressed and your reactions will assist in deciding how to best handle these situations in the future.

3. Set boundaries.

Time and task management (also known as work management) are vital to keep work tension at bay. If you’re overtaxing yourself, burnout is bound to happen. Aim to always keep a healthy work and family life balance. When feeling tired or overwhelmed at work, take a break and go for a short walk. Eat lunch away from your desk each day to give yourself a mental vacation. Remember to prioritize the most important work tasks and delegate responsibilities when it’s plausible.


Setting boundaries can help you maintain a positive work-life balance. Here are some other tips to help you avoid and combat workplace burnout.

4. Build workplace support systems.

Develop a support system to alleviate stress at work. Connect with colleagues as a way to help keep stress levels under control. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, find a trusted member within your workplace to talk things through. Remember to remain supportive in turn when a coworker is feeling stressed and needs help.

If you feel as though there is no one you can lean on at work, focus on building new friendships with co-workers. You could also have a strong support system outside of the office. Talk to friends and family members about what is bothering you at work. Outside influences can sometimes give you much-needed perspective on the situation.

5. Maintain your physical health.

Remember to stay healthy to improve your stress levels. Your food choices and exercise habits have a large impact on how you feel throughout the day. A common problem is that stressed individuals turn to “comfort” food – such as sweets and fried dishes – to alleviate stress. These foods actually cause blood sugar levels to crash and your mood is likely to worsen.

Instead, eat a well-rounded diet made up of mostly lean proteins, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol since these substances are detrimental to your mental health. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise each day to boost your mood. [Read related article: Want to Get More Done at Work? Eat Better]

Ned Smith contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.

Top 10 Use Cases Of Service Level Agreement Automation In ’23

Contracts are binding between companies and customers. So, an enterprise breaching its contract hurts its reputation and business. It is critical to constantly monitor the service level agreement (SLA) terms for contractual compliance.

But with different types of contracts, stipulations, and services, a manual service level agreement monitoring can be time-consuming, repetitive, and erroneous. Service level agreement automation can improve companies’ service level management via automated job scheduling and real-time breach alerts.

In this article, we explain what a service level agreement (SLA) is, how SLA is automated, and highlight the top 10 use cases of service level agreement automation.

What is a service level agreement (SLA)?

A service level agreement (SLA) is a contract/commitment between a company and a customer, laying out the:

Service type

Service delivery date, schedule, and requirement

Other essential obligations

an enterprise agrees to provide. SLA compliance failure can have legal, reputational, and commercial ramifications for the organization.

What is service level agreement automation?

Service level agreement (SLA) automation is using a dedicated software to manage SLAs, such as:

Conducting performance monitoring of jobs

Getting the results

Comparing results against the service level agreement thresholds

Confirming conformance or lack thereof

Notifying employees of (possible) breaches

For example, an alternative data provider has promised a marketing firm that it will send 1TB of social sentiment data by December 31. Bots can keep track of how much data has been sent to the client and compare that to performance metrics. If the amount sent by December 25th is 30% less than the SLA, the custom schedules of the software would warn the employees of a possible breach.

What are the use cases of service level agreement automation? 1. Proactive notifications

Document processing technologies can read the contract and extract useful data, such as the:

Specific terms of the service level agreements

Responsible department

Customer’s information

RPA bots then create a performance monitoring dashboard for each SLA. After process mining tools extract the service level agreements’ event log data, RPA bots transport it to the dashboard for analysis.

If a process is behind schedule, a proactive alert email can be sent to the relevant department head. If the bottleneck can’t be fixed quickly, a progress report can automatically be sent to the customer, warning them of the delay in service.

2. Critical service analysis

Service level agreements can be granularly analyzed to achieve operational excellence. For example, a logistics company can monitor, log, and assess delivery times. This means critical service analysis of service level agreements lets firms assess and improve their performance.

3. Risk assessment

Service level agreement (SLA) monitoring can assist in risk assessment. For example, if a client churned after two negative support calls, alerts can be provided for a similar customer after one negative conversation.

A benefit of SLA automation is that ML tools can provide these information to customer reps instantly, so they don’t have to look for it.

4. Automated queuing

ML algorithms, business engines, and NLP tools can prioritize, and queue the breach tickets based on:

Customer’s importance and past history

The process priority

The service level agreement’s deadline

The benefit is maximum flexibility for the company to optimize its resource allocation based on the breach’s importance and urgency.

5. Secured auditing

Cloud-based SLA automation solutions offer cloud management benefits:


Change management histories Breaches, troubleshoots, and process performance data can, therefore, be stored and accessed on the cloud.

This is useful for compliance purposes, too. For example, airports are accountable federal regulators, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). And ESG metrics can be included in the SLA, with progress having to be communicated transparently and constantly. Cloud management improves data service quality in audits by providing a clear digital footprint of shortcomings, successes, operational changes, etc.

6. Streamlined service level agreement (SLA) creation

Especially for holding companies involved in different sectors, it can be difficult to pick and choose which service level agreements suit a customer from a certain industry. A service level agreement (SLA) solution can apply applicable SLAs to new customers based on their industry category and needed services.

The service level agreement solution can also enforce SLA exclusions. This is when the SLA should apply, but doesn’t (i.e., the company not sending a report during January because of Christmas vacation).

7. Automated troubleshooting

Developers can use job scheduling to define troubleshooting steps as soon as a breach in service level agreement (SLA) is identified. For example, a utility company might have promised to limit downtimes to thirty minutes. As soon as a network outage is detected, the RPA bots can orchestrate remote troubleshooting such as turning the power cell off and on. And if the downtime is reaching a particular threshold, field teams can be sent to location for recovery operations.

Learn more about RPA use cases in utility.

8. Resource optimization

One of the capabilities of service level agreement automation solutions is the analytics hub. The task mining feature of SLA management specifies the steps within an SLA task, the resources required, ticket priority, and estimated time of completion.

Based ticket priority and resource availability, firms can optimize how to use resources, like sending alerts to employees or concurrent bot deployment. The Orchestrator functionality, therefore, allows users to manage SLAs and troubleshooting tasks in a more data-driven manner.

The ML models can also leverage historical data to automatically allocate more resources to some jobs if they are historically seen as more likely to need supervision, and thus, viewed as a necessity.

9. Transparent customer reporting

B2C transparency is a necessity. Service level agreement automation can increase it. This is because the users have the ability to define and use the job scheduling capabilities to send an as-is report of SLA management to customers. This means the customers will have access to accurate performance reports where they will see the number of times a breach of contract has been made, when it’s been avoided, successful operations, and more.

Learn more about RPA use cases in reporting.

10. Automated timers

Whenever an SLA is to be done, the software can inform the employee of the time frame within which the task should be completed. When the job is done, the software will log the duration. Or the ML capabilities can use log data to suggest the appropriate duration time on a new SLA.

For more on process automation

To learn more about process automation, read:

And to invest in a business process automation software, head to our BPA hub to find a data-driven list of vendors.

We will help you in the selection process:

He primarily writes about RPA and process automation, MSPs, Ordinal Inscriptions, IoT, and to jazz it up a bit, sometimes FinTech.





Why Legal Experts Are Up In Arms Over The Trade

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, lawmakers heard arguments over a bill that has garnered passionate support from Microsoft but been compared by others to the controversial SOPA copyright act.

Known as the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2024, the proposed legislation aims to strengthen companies’ ability to defend trade secrets with federal-level protections.

Specifically, it allows companies to pursue trade-secrets cases in federal court much as they can copyright or patent cases, thereby freeing them from the state-level constraints of today’s laws. More notably, it allows for so-called ex parte seizure, enabling a company that thinks a secret has been stolen to ask the government to seize a suspected thief’s property without notice, to prevent misuse of that secret.

Trade secrets can encompass many things, including a recipe such as the formula for Coca-Cola, or a company’s software algorithms.

“Trade secrets encompass an expanding portion of firms’ intellectual property portfolios, particularly in knowledge-centric areas of the economy such as technology and manufacturing,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The theft of U.S. trade secrets is increasing, he added, with estimates amounting to more than $300 billion in losses each year.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act was introduced this summer by lawmakers including Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, Senator Christopher Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, and Representative Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia, after an unsuccessful attempt to pass an earlier version last year.

At Wednesday’s hearing, those arguing in favor of the bill included lawyers from Corning and DuPont, who cited the increasingly digital and global nature of trade-secrets theft.

Their view was echoed in a blog post by Jule Sigall, Microsoft’s assistant general counsel of IP policy and strategy, who described the importance of trade secrets in the development of Cortana.

Opposition to the bill was voiced even before the hearing by more than 40 law professors in a joint letter that expressed concern about the ex parte seizure provision, as well as the bill’s potential to increase the duration and cost of trade-secrets litigation.

At the hearing, that view was expressed by intellectual property expert and Hamline University professor Sharon Sandeen, who argued that the bill would cause more problems than it solves and could particularly harm small businesses.

Companies have long protected algorithms such as consumer credit-scoring mechanisms under trade-secret law, Sandeen said in an interview after the hearing. If passed, the new bill could give them new powers to conceal those algorithms.

“Federal litigation tends to have more psychological power behind it,” she said. “That’s a benefit that will be used by the people who own the algorithms.”

There’s also no federal jurisprudence on the matter, she added, so “technically the federal courts can decide what everything means within trade-secret law.”

In other words, the federal courts could take an expansive view of what constitutes a trade secret and what it means to steal one, resulting in stronger protections for companies seeking to protect algorithms and other secrets.

That could come as a blow to those like Ashkan Soltani, the FTC’s chief technologist, who seek greater algorithmic transparency for social and ethical reasons.

Hamline University’s Sandeen suspects a hidden agenda behind the bill. Protections on trade secrets were traditionally kept relatively weak to encourage companies to pursue patents instead, she noted.

Patents are generally limited to 20 years, while “in theory, trade secrets can last forever,” she said. Particularly in industries such as manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, “they realize that trade secrets would be a better option.”

In addition, patents are filed publicly. A greater reliance on trade secrets would strike another blow to transparency.

“Patents offer a form of disclosure and rudimentary algorithmic transparency that can be used to inform the public of how those systems operate,” said Nick Diakopoulos, a professor in the University of Maryland’s College of Journalism. “Fewer patents means there will be less information about corporate algorithms available to the public.”

Hacking a company to steal a trade secret is already illegal under the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, noted Christian Sandvig, a professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

With its new seizure provisions, the Defend Trade Secrets Act could threaten free speech as well, he suggested.

“We know that in the past, corporations have used the courts to try to shut down Web servers that publicize technological research that makes them look bad,” Sandvig said. “This bill would give corporate censors a powerful new tool.”

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