The Cable

As NAFTA Talks Restart, Canada and Mexico Are Unfazed by Trump’s Threats

Everyone is looking for a better deal.

NAFTA

The second round of talks for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement is set to start Friday in Mexico. Since the conclusion of the first round, U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the trade agreement. How, then, are U.S. neighbors dealing with the impending round two?

Just fine.

For one thing, while public opinion in the United States toward NAFTA is split, Canadians and Mexicans are in general agreement that the deal is good for their countries.

“I think it’s because NAFTA has been a pretty good deal for all the countries, but particularly for Mexico and Canada,” Richard Miles, the director of the U.S.-Mexico Futures Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Foreign Policy.

Some 30 years ago, Mexico was a closed economy, but now people there have grown used to the benefits, according to Duncan Wood, the director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

“NAFTA, free trade, the market economy [have] acquired an almost unchallenged status in Mexico. It’s almost a hegemonic concept,” Wood said. “People don’t really think of an alternative.”

Some politicians in Mexico do oppose the government’s position on NAFTA renegotiations, however. Left-leaning Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador has already called for talks to be suspended until after his country’s election next year and threatened to renegotiate if this round of talks harms Mexico’s interests.

A bad deal for Mexico, said Miles of CSIS, would be a “gift to the Mexican left.”

But like the United States, both Mexico and Canada are at the negotiating table looking for a better deal. “By and large, they’re trying to look at this as an opportunity to update the treaty,” Miles said, noting that the two countries want to modernize the 1994 agreement with concepts like e-commerce and update language on labor mobility.

Canada in particular is hoping to make the new deal more progressive, adding in chapters on the impact of trade on women and indigenous peoples. “We welcome the opportunity to modernize it,” a Canadian government official told FP. “We’re going to actively push to move these things forward. We think they could be a huge opportunity.”

The Canadian negotiators expected the United States to play the “withdraw from NAFTA” card, the government official said, although perhaps not so early on. “We know that we’re dealing with a little bit of an unpredictable administration,” the official said.

Both Mexico and Canada have sent senior people to get the job done, according to the Wilson Center’s Wood. “The Mexican negotiating team is a very professional, very experienced — they’re top-quality people, and they’ve got their eyes on the prize,” he said.

And neither country appears fazed by the U.S. president’s threats to walk away from NAFTA. As Miles put it, “They’ve all read The Art of the Deal.”

Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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