Ironically, while it’s too soon to say whether NAFTA will survive, there is growing reason to think the trade deal that has bound three nations together for more than a generation may actually improve.
Despite the bluster from President Donald Trump, who continues to threaten a pullout — this time tying the treaty’s survival to Mexican border issues — there appears to have been enough movement lately for representatives from the United States, Canada and Mexico to be cautiously optimistic as negotiations approach a final stage.
At a recent panel sponsored by the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., together with Canadian Consul General Paul Connors and Mexican Consul Gerardo Guerrero, all made the case for continued trade under the agreement and predicted a deal will be reached soon.
But there also is reason for continued worry. Trump’s approach to negotiations has been unconventional, to say the least. Emmer described it as “a more aggressive style than we’re used to” but said it also appeared to be getting results. Others have described it more pointedly as bullying unfavorable to long-term relationships.
In his latest threat, Trump described NAFTA as Mexico’s “cash cow” and accused America’s southern neighbor of “laughing at our dumb immigration laws.” Such petty insults are unproductive and inappropriate for a superpower such as the United States. Thankfully, U.S. negotiators have carried on, making slow but steady progress on modernizing the agreement in a way that can benefit all three nations. It is fortunate that this country has dedicated and skilled negotiators who ignore the rantings from above. If the U.S. successfully concludes a refreshed NAFTA, it will be thanks to their efforts.
In addition to his threats, Trump also is said to be pushing for a preliminary deal that he can announce at the Summit of the Americas in Peru next week. But some major differences remain, and as Connors told an editorial writer in an interview, “We have made it clear that we won’t accept a bad deal for Canada. The momentum is there, and we are committed to staying at the table and working through issues.” That work, he said, will not be hurried by artificial deadlines.
Trump’s aggression in the wider trade arena has many in Minnesota on edge. His imposition of tariffs on China has already prompted retaliatory action, with 25 percent tariffs imposed on a host of U.S. products, including pork. Soybeans may be next.
Perry Aasness, executive director of the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, said of Trump’s tough talk in an interview with an editorial writer that “the thing we’re all trying to figure out is how much is negotatiing strategy vs. how much is real. … It can make it difficult for negotiating to have the president make those remarks. I’m trying to remain optimistic, but the next steps will be pretty important. Folks I talk to in agribusiness are very nervous about where all this is headed.”
Overall, NAFTA has proved a boon for the U.S. economy. There are elements that need to change, but threats to dump the agreement are reckless and a poor way to treat valued allies and trading partners. It is hoped by this board that the cooler heads working on the nuts and bolts of a new agreement will prevail.