President Trump suggested at a cabinet meeting on August 16 that he was “in no rush” to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement on tariffs, rules for the auto industry, and labor standards. Despite US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s effort in settling a NAFTA deal in August, Mr. Trump insisted on achieving an agreement that is in favor of US regardless of the time.
Meanwhile, the US is imposing pressure on Canada, expecting to get more compromises at the negotiation table, including Canada’s protection over dairy industry and timber export. Canada is not participating in the ongoing negotiation between US and Mexico currently, but both countries hope to have trilateral discussions with Canada once the Mexican-US deal has been settled.
A NAFTA deal that is “a lot better” for the US is associated with Mr. Trump’s political interest for it is one of the promises made in the 2016 presidential election. Progress made with Canada is crucial for the Trump administration to gain sufficient votes from states located along the northern border to get the deal pass, while the Democrats emphasis more on the enforcement of the labor rules.
Trump Says He Is in ‘No Rush’ to Renegotiate NAFTA
WASHINGTON—President Trump told trade negotiators to take the time they need to strike an attractive deal on overhauling the North American Free Trade Agreement and sought to put pressure on Canada, which isn’t participating in the latest talks between the U.S. and Mexico.
Mr. Trump’s remarks at a cabinet meeting Thursday came as senior Mexican officials were in Washington to discuss new Nafta rules for the auto industry and higher labor standards, a key demand of Democratic lawmakers.
“I’m in no rush,” Mr. Trump said of Nafta. “If we don’t have a breakthrough, don’t do the deal.”
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer had been seeking to reach a Nafta deal in August, which could allow an agreement to be signed before Mexico’s president-elect takes office in December.
Mr. Trump on Thursday complained about Canada’s tariff levels and barriers to U.S. exports. “So we’re not even talking to them right now,” he said, referring to Canada. “It will only work out to our favor.”
A spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canadian officials are in regular contact with their U.S. and Mexican counterparts on Nafta and “look forward to continuing these important discussions in the coming weeks.”
Mexican officials say they expect Ottawa officials to rejoin the talks soon.
“There are Mexican-U.S. issues that have to be solved; then we’ll be ready for trilateral discussions” with Canada, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said after a meeting with Mr. Lighthizer on Thursday.
“I hope once we get one with Mexico, that Canada will come along,” Mr. Lighthizer said at the meeting with Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump won the 2016 presidential election with a promise to make Nafta “a lot better” for the U.S. or to pull out altogether. Lately the U.S. administration has increased pressure on its neighbors, warning of possible U.S. tariffs on vehicles and auto parts. The U.S. in June imposed duties on steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico.
Trump administration officials have expressed particular frustration with Canada for not giving more ground at the negotiating table, including in its dairy industry. Canada protects its industry through a mechanism that includes price regulations and tariffs.
“Canada charges us for dairy products,” Mr. Trump said. “But we’re taking care of that situation.”
Mr. Trump also said, “Canada is charging us a lot of money to bring their timber down into our country.”
In fact, it is the Trump administration that imposed tariffs on imports of Canadian softwood lumber last year after the U.S. industry argued that Canadian provinces provide unfair subsidies to lumber mills there.
The Trump administration needs to make progress with Canada to win votes of lawmakers from states along the northern border. But most Democratic lawmakers are more worried about raising labor standards in Mexico and making those labor rules fully enforceable through the trade agreement.
“I looked President Trump in the eye and told him that if they get a deal that’s better for American workers, not only will I vote for it, I’ll help him get the votes it needs to pass,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) said Thursday. “But it’s hard to see how we get those votes if this deal doesn’t do more on labor enforcement than we’ve seen.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal, Michael C. Bender and William Mauldin, August 16, 2018. Photo credit to Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press.