NAFTA negotiations as early as May
Trump signals hope of quick start
North America could be immersed in major trade negotiations as early as this spring, with U.S. President Donald Trump signalling a desire Thursday to get going quickly on updating the landmark NAFTA agreement.
The president noted that American law requires him to provide 90 days’ notice to Congress before starting any trade negotiation, while the administration gathers advice from lawmakers and private industry on what bargaining positions to adopt.
“(We) will be very soon, as soon as we get the go-ahead,’’ Trump said.
“We want to get that whole thing kickstarted and going.’’
That means trade talks could start as early as May, depending on when Trump fires the starter’s pistol. Mexico’s government predicted this week negotiations would begin in May, as it announced its own 90-day consultation process.
One looming question is what form a final agreement might take — and whether the fundamental document now binding the three North American countries might get a minor update, a major one, or splinter entirely into oneon-one deals between countries.
Trump sounded open to either of those approaches.
He suggested the agreement could get a facelift — or an entirely new body: “I don’t care if it’s a renovation of NAFTA or a brand new NAFTA,’’ Trump said. “But we do have to make it fair.’’
He added, in jest: “Maybe we do a new NAFTA and we add an extra ‘F’ ... for ‘free and fair’ trade.’’
Some trade experts predict the trilateral agreement of 1993 could wind up breaking into separate bilateral deals between the countries, an idea publicly floated last week by one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, lawmaker Chris Collins.
The Canadian government sounds willing to go either route. Canadian officials have signalled publicly, and privately, that while they prefer the three-country format as it is, they could live with multiple agreements as a Plan B.
That’s exactly what one leading authority on NAFTA predicts will happen.
The current political trendlines point toward separate bilateral agreements, said Gary Hufbauer, the former U.S. trade official and NAFTA expert who’s now an analyst with Washington’s Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Not that he agrees with it. Hufbauer said bilateral deals would be more complicated, more time-consuming, would suck up additional energy from lawmakers, negotiators, and industry lobbyists, and cause concern about disruptions in supply chains.