Does Donald Trump even want a NAFTA deal?


Having spent just minutes in the building where she's participated in marathon talks aiming to reach a deal with the USA to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement, Canada's Foreign Minister hit a less optimistic note than earlier that Thursday, when she had said both sides were "making progress".

After four intensive days of talks in Washington between Canada and the United States, the biggest sticking points were familiar ones: USA demands for more access to Canada's closed dairy market and Canadian insistence that a trade dispute settlement system be maintained, not scrapped as Washington wants.

Trump, in a conversation Thursday with Bloomberg News, gave a dismissive off-the-record assessment of the Canadian position on major NAFTA sticking points that was leaked to the Toronto Star newspaper and published Friday morning.

Before the Mexico deal was reached, Larry Kudlow, who heads the White House's National Economic Council, said China has been increasingly isolated in the trade arena, with Washington moving toward trade deals with the European Union and with Mexico, according to an August 3 Reuters report.

Anything other than a trilateral agreement will not win Congressional approval and would lose business support, the chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, said in a statement.

The President also allegedly said that he's intimidating Canada with tariffs and other means at his disposal during the negotiations: "off the record, Canada's working their ass off". Trump said he had a new name for that pact: the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement.

In a 2016 presidential debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, he described Nafta as "the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere" and a "killer" of U.S. jobs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at an event Friday in Oshawa, brushed off a question about Trump's comments, saying that "over the past year and a half there's a lot of things that have been said from time to time". "We'll only agree to a deal that's good for Canada". As we said from the outset, our objective in these talks is to update and modernize NAFTA in a way that is good for Canadians, good for Americans and good for Mexicans. "I think you would have to look at each cheese on an individual basis", he said when reached by phone in Vancouver.

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Lighthizer told reporters Friday morning that Canada was not making concessions about United States dairy access to the Canadian market.

Despite the president's assertions, however, it is still possible that the leaks of his remarks came from another official within the Trump White House and not from the Bloomberg reporters themselves. The deal also proposes requiring a significant portion of automobile parts - 75 percent - be made in the US and Mexico.

Here are the next procedural steps to move forward with the deal and the outstanding issues that need to be resolved between the USA and Canada.

The two countries had held a series of meetings over four days to try to hammer out their differences on a new North American Free Trade Agreement. Lighthizer said on Monday that Mexico had agreed to eliminate the mechanism. Canada's 11,280 dairy farmers form one of the country's most influential political lobbies. Mr. Trump rejected an European Union offer to eliminate auto tariffs if the United States does the same.

As word of Trump's off-the-record remarks rippled through the media corps gathered outside the offices of the US trade representative on Friday morning, a stoic Freeland maintained her diplomatic countenance, saying only that both the Canadian negotiating team and USTR officials were working hard to reach an agreement.

Dairy: Trump has long complained about Canada's protection for its dairy industry, which restricts the ability of U.S. farmers to enter the market.

"He hates any form of decision making from outside the U.S. telling Americans what to do", said the NAFTA expert, who asked not to be named.