Washington, DC — The NAFTA countries were scheduled to sit down for an important meeting later Friday as they weigh the feasibility of achieving a deal over the coming days, or whether they will risk seeing whole the process delayed into 2019.
Lead ministers for Canada, the U.S., and Mexico were gathering in Washington to discuss the days ahead, as U.S. officials say there’s one week left to complete something that could meet the deadlines to pass a vote in the current Congress.
Mexico’s minister Ildefonso Guajardo said the countries are discussing several things: whether to keep working through the weekend, the list of issues that can be addressed in the deal, and resolving the remaining differences over autos.
“That’s what we’ll discuss,” Guajardo said Friday, when asked about his weekend plans. Regardless of what happens, he said, negotiating teams will keep meeting this weekend.
“We believe there is a way to solve autos. I think we’re trying to make a very good effort. We are still not in the final definition.”
At the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump again called NAFTA a terrible deal Friday, saying he wants better deals for his country. He made the remarks during a meeting with auto executives.
“We have some bad deals in this country. Between the Iran deal, NAFTA — we could look at any deal,” Trump said.
“Bad deals. But now we’re going to good deals… We’ll see what happens.”
Trump suggested he doesn’t blame the other countries for resisting U.S. demands: “Mexico, and Canada, look, they don’t like to lose the golden goose. But I’m representing the United States. I’m not representing Mexico, and I’m not representing Canada… We’ll see if we can make it reasonable.”
But some American lawmakers are also worried.
Many Republicans dislike provisions the administration is pursuing, on rules for automakers and on weakening investor-state dispute protections. Some Democrats are also worried that the administration is doing too little to open up Canada’s dairy market.
Lawmakers have heard the administration might threaten them to pass a new NAFTA quickly. What they fear is that Trump might start the six-month process of cancelling the old agreement in order to force them into a quick vote on the new one.
One influential Republican senator wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he would refuse that pressure tactic, in a piece titled, “Don’t try to blackmail us on NAFTA, Mr. President.”
“To pressure us into voting for an agreement that diminishes free trade, some in the administration suggest offering a grim choice: either approve a diminished NAFTA, or the president will unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from the existing NAFTA, leaving no NAFTA at all,” said Pat Toomey, who sits on the Senate committee that handles trade bills.
“If presented with this ultimatum, I will vote No (on the new NAFTA), urge my colleagues to do likewise, and oppose any effort by the administration to withdraw unilaterally. Pulling out of NAFTA by executive fiat would be economically harmful and unconstitutional.”
Under the U.S. Constitution, the Congress controls international commerce. But for practical reasons, and in keeping with the president’s constitutional power over foreign affairs, lawmakers have historically granted the power to the White House — as long as they’re consulted on negotiations throughout the process.