US President Donald Trump on Wednesday told the leaders of Canada and Mexico, the North American Free Trade Agreement partners, that the United States will not terminate the regional free trade agreement at this stage.
In phone calls to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump “agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time,” the White House said.
It added that “the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries.”
Trump campaigned for president in 2016 on a platform that included renegotiating or abandoning the trade agreement, which he claimed was “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” in a September debate with Hillary Clinton.
NAFTA was established January 1, 1994 under then-president Bill Clinton. It removes tariffs and allows a free flow of goods between the three partners.
Trump has repeatedly derided NAFTA as a “disaster” and claimed the deal resulted in millions of lost US industrial jobs, mostly to Mexico.
“It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation,” Trump said, according to the White House statement. “It is an honor to deal with both President Pena Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau, and I believe that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better.”
Both conversations were “pleasant and productive,” the statement said.
The US trade deficit in goods and services last year with Mexico was $62 billion, but with Canada the US had a surplus of $8 billion.
Two White House officials told the Politico news website on Wednesday that a draft executive order for the United States to exit NAFTA was in the final stages of review, and could be unveiled within a week or two. The New York Times had quoted a senior administration official saying Trump was likely to sign such an executive order.
But late Wednesday Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross brushed off the reports as “rumor.”
According to The Washington Post Trump is expected to tell Congress that he intends to re-negotiate the deal, but also hold the threat of exiting the agreement to gain more concessions from Mexico and Canada.
An administration source told Reuters that there were diverging opinions within the US government about how to
proceed and it was possible that Trump could sign the executive order before the 100-day mark of his presidency.
The source noted that the administration wanted to tread carefully. “There is talk about what steps we can take to start the process of renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA,” this source said.