The Cable

Trudeau Tells Trump He’s Ready to Renegotiate NAFTA

What now for NAFTA?


Well, Donald Trump did vow to rip up trade deals. It may be starting even before his inauguration.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that he is willing to reopen NAFTA, noting that “it’s important that we be open to talking about trade deals.” And in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, said, “We’re ready to come to the table.”

As president, Trump will have executive authority to remove the United States from any trade deal. NAFTA has been in effect since January 1994 — and Trump has railed against it almost as long, saying he would renegotiate it or withdraw from it altogether. Trump, who, over the course of the campaign, called NAFTA “an absolute catastrophe” and “a total disaster,” stated his opposition to it in 1993 because “the Mexicans want it, and that doesn’t sound good.”

In 2015, U.S.-Canada trade came to about $660 billion, a two-way exchange that could be upended by a reopened NAFTA, though neither the Canadian government nor Trump has specified what, exactly, is up for discussion. But then, Canada has never been the controversial member of NAFTA. According to the Congressional Research Service, from 1993 to 2014, exports to Canada doubled; imports from Mexico, by comparison, jumped 251 percent. And it’s against Mexico, not Canada, that Trump has specifically threatened double-digit tariffs (in his presidential announcement speech, he said he would put a 35 percent tariff on automotive parts that came from a hypothetical factory in Mexico).

Still, renegotiating trade deals is not the same as tearing them up. And there’s plenty of anti-trade feeling among Trump supporters (as there was among supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders). Half of the electorate in Michigan think trade is bad for jobs, and 47 percent of Ohio voters this trade is bad for workers. Time will tell if Trudeau’s preemptive gesture will be enough to satisfy them that Trump has their back.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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