WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump is again suggesting that NAFTA be terminated, this time saying that both Canada and Mexico are being “very difficult,” but observers didn’t take the threat too seriously Sunday.
While the president has threatened to end the trade agreement before, this is the first time Trump has complained about Canada’s role in the talks.
Canada, the U.S. and Mexico began formal negotiations earlier this month to rework the 23-year-old trade deal.
When Trump previously threatened to blow up NAFTA, a representative for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said “heated rhetoric” is common in trade negotiations, but that Canada’s priorities remain the same.
Sui Sui, an economics professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, said she doesn’t take Trump’s comments too seriously, because these kind of talks “should be hard.”
“This is a pretty normal trade negotiation: each party fights (for) the best interests of their own country,” she said. “The Canadian government is just doing their job, same as the Mexican government.”
Robert Holleyman, former deputy trade czar under Barack Obama, also doesn’t expect Trump would follow through with his threat to withdraw the U.S. from the trade deal. In a Twitter post on Sunday morning, Holleyman cited agricultural interests and dissent from Congress as barriers to the president’s plan.
“Mark my words. He will not pull out of NAFTA,” he wrote.
Trade economist Dan Trefler, professor at the University of Toronto and senior research fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, agrees that Trump’s Twitter rhetoric is unlikely to translate to action. For one thing, the president is unlikely to receive the congressional approval he would need to act on a major trade agreement. “Congress has been more involved in these trade negotiations than it’s ever been involved in any previous trade negotiation,” Trefler says.
And while withdrawing from NAFTA would appeal to parts of Trump’s base — people who work in manufacturing jobs in states like Michigan and Wisconsin, for instance — Trefler says it would alienate Trump’s many supporters in the farm belt.
In Trefler’s view, focusing on Trump’s inflammatory Twitter posts can detract from the things his administration is doing. “It’s easy for him to make these kinds of statements, because they play to the image,” he says.
“Trump has only one audience, and that’s the electorate.”