Trump: ‘We’ll end up prob­a­bly ter­mi­nat­ing NAFTA’

Weekend Mirror - - CHILDREN’S CORNER - By Alexander Panetta The Cana­dian Press


Trump h a s threat­ened to blow up NAFTA less than one week into the rene­go­ti­a­tion of the trade agree­ment, pro­vid­ing an early in­di­ca­tion that the up­com­ing talks might oc­cur un­der a cloud of me­nace.

The pres­i­dent’s threat itself is no surprise. A com­mon topic of hall­way chat­ter at last week’s first round of talks last week was just when he might de­ploy that with­drawal threat, which many view as his prin­ci­pal source of ne­go­ti­at­ing lever­age.

The only surprise how quickly it came.

“Per­son­ally, I don’t t hink we c a n make a deal,” Trump told a cam­paign- style rally in Ari­zona late Tues­day night. “Be­cause we have been so is badly taken ad­van­tage of. They have made such great deals — both of the coun­tries, but in par­tic­u­lar Mex­ico — that I don’t think we can make a deal.

“So I think we’ll end up prob­a­bly ter­mi­nat­ing NAFTA at some point.”

He re­peated it: “I told you from the first day, we will rene­go­ti­ate NAFTA or we will ter­mi­nate NAFTA. I per­son­ally don’t think you can make a deal without ter­mi­na­tion but we’ll see what hap­pens. You’re in good hands, I can tell you.”

He’s made the threat nu­mer­ous times, but this is the first time he’s done it since Canada, the U. S. and Mex­ico be­gan talks last week.

What to expect at the NAFTA talks

Mex­ico’s for­eign min­is­ter shrugged it off as a lever­age play: “No surprise: we’re in a ne­go­ti­a­tion,” Luis Vide­garay tweeted in re­sponse. “Mex­ico will re­main at the ta­ble with calm­ness, firm­ness, and in the na­tional in­ter­est.”

In­sid­ers say they expect him to keep mak­ing these threats. It’s his main source of power to force the other coun­tries to reach an agree­ment. One well-con­nected Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist at last week’s talks said he was con­vinced the threat was com­ing: “Al­most 100 per cent.”

The for­mer deputy trade czar un­der Barack Obama said it’s an ob­vi­ous move and he thinks the pres­i­dent made it too early. In an in­ter­view sev­eral weeks ago, Robert Hol­ley­man said it was a se­ri­ous tac­ti­cal er­ror when Trump made the threat in April.

He said Canada and Mex­ico gained valu­able i nsight t hat will ren­der Trump’s threats less pow­er­ful at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble: in April, the U.S. Congress pushed back against him, the busi­ness com­mu­nity fumed, and his own cabi­net mem­bers pleaded against it.

“It was, at a min­i­mum, ter­ri­ble tim­ing,” said Hol­ley­man, Obama’s deputy United States Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

“You do that at the 11th hour in the ne­go­ti­a­tion — not at the throat- clear­ing stage . . . I sus­pect Pres­i­dent Trump will be un­able to play that card again. And if he does play it, it won’t be as strong as it would’ve been . . . The Cana­di­ans and Mex­i­cans will say, ‘You . . . will face a huge back­lash in your own Congress.””

That episode in April un­der­scored the com­plex­ity of end­ing NAFTA.

Without the sup­port of Congress, a pres­i­dent might with­draw the U.S. from the in­ter­na­tional agree­ment, but he could not sin­gle­hand­edly wave away the law on the U.S. books that im­ple­mented NAFTA.

An in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic law pro­fes­sor and for­mer State De­part­ment lawyer said he be­lieves it would ul­ti­mately end up in court. And he said U.S. courts would ul­ti­mately con­clude that the pres­i­dent can’t rip up NAFTA without con­gres­sional sup­port.

That’s be­cause the pres­i­dent can’t just erase the 1994 NAFTA Im­ple­men­ta­tion Act passed by Congress. Only Congress can pass laws. In ad­di­tion, the U. S. Con­sti­tu­tion makes clear t hat Congress has power over in­ter­na­tional com­merce.

“If the pres­i­dent were to rip up NAFTA, and then sort of jack tar­iffs way up, I think some­body would be able to come in and say . . . ‘You’re ac­tu­ally vi­o­lat­ing U.S. do­mes­tic law,’” said Tim Meyer, a Van­der­bilt pro­fes­sor, for­mer gov­ern­ment lawyer, and one­time clerk for Neil Gor­such, whom Trump ap­pointed to the Supreme Court.

“I think courts are go­ing to be sym­pa­thetic to the idea that the pres­i­dent can’t ig­nore the leg­is­la­tion that im­ple­ments these trade agree­ments. Congress has not re­pealed that leg­is­la­tion, and they’ve given no in­di­ca­tion they in­tend to.”

That be­ing said, sev­eral ob­servers sug­gest a pres­i­den­tial at­tempt to with­draw could set up a le­gal and po­lit­i­cal tug of war with Congress over the set­ting of new tar­iff sched­ules — and that would fos­ter eco­nomic uncertainty.

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