Finance Minister Bill Morneau speaks to the media on the first day of the Liberal government’s cabinet retreat in London, Ontario. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trump’s soothing comments on NAFTA talks relieve supporters of trade pact

WASHINGTON — A string of calming comments from Donald Trump about NAFTA has trade proponents across the continent breathing some relief that the U.S. president’s trigger finger may not be about to blow up the deal after all.

Trump made about a half-dozen such remarks to The Wall Street Journal, cooling red-hot speculation in Canada following news reports that said Trump might be planning to issue a notice of withdrawal from NAFTA sometime after this month’s round of bargaining.

A transcript of the interview shows Trump saying of the negotiations: “We’re moving along nicely,” “There’s no rush,” “I’m leaving it a little flexible,” “We have a chance of making a reasonable deal,” “We’ve made a lot of headway.”

Trump also said a new NAFTA would provide benefits that pay for his proposed border wall with Mexico. He added that he understands it’s tough for Mexico to deal with these negotiations during its current election.

Yes, he repeated his threat to cancel the agreement if he can’t get a better deal. Observers still view a U.S. withdrawal notice as a potential bargaining ploy at some point. But his comments were viewed as overwhelmingly pointing against an imminent pullout.

“I thought that was a sensible suggestion from the president,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, when asked about Trump’s apparent willingness to take more time to negotiate.

”That was a good, constructive proposal from the president.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it was business as usual: ”Our approach hasn’t changed. We stay polite, respectful, hard-working, but very firm,” he said, acknowledging that the Trump administration can be unpredictable and anything can happen.

Mexico’s Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo made similar comments. He told the newspaper El Pais that he interpreted the president’s remarks as meaning a notice of termination does not appear imminent.

Some Americans have been detecting lately that the pro-NAFTA lobby effort is working.

”The president is getting enormous pressure from within the United States. From members of his own party, from the agriculture community, from the business community, from states where he won the presidency,” said Robert Holleyman, former deputy trade czar under Barack Obama.

”He’s getting very big pressure to make sure NAFTA does not fall apart.”

Farmers have already been hit with commodities plunges and have been pleading with the president — through members of Congress and senior members of his administration — not to compound the crisis by threatening exports.

Farm states have warned him that triggering the NAFTA withdrawal clause to scare Canada and Mexico into concessions would backfire — they say it would also scare foreign buyers of American goods, leading them to seek new suppliers.

Trump appeared at a farm conference this week and made less-aggressive-than-usual remarks about NAFTA.

Canada-U.S. trade lawyer Dan Ujczo was at that conference — then got on a plane to Canada. When he landed, he was surprised to hear the urgent tone of news reporting suggesting a pullout was imminent.

”I was stunned,” said Ujczo.

”You come up here (to Canada) and the situation’s completely escalated. … (But) I’m more optimistic now… I think the president’s hearing from different voices… He’s weighing both the political and economic consequences of issuing the notice to withdraw…

”I think over the last months he’s picked up that there is a potential cost.”

There’s still a chance Trump will eventually trigger NAFTA’s Article 2205, which allows a country to leave after six months’ notice, Ujczo said. The president said he believes it would be his most powerful negotiating tool.

He’ll need to decide whether to deploy it by spring, when the current schedule of rounds expires and the U.S. Congress debates extending a fast-track law setting rules for trade negotiations.

It’s crucial to show progress by then, Ujczo said. As long as there’s forward momentum at the upcoming talks in Montreal, which get underway Jan. 23, he said it’s less likely Trump will touch the exit button.

”I think the president is starting to realize that the notice to withdraw is less a negotiating tactic — and more a Pandora’s box,” Ujczo said.

”You may not be able to put the NAFTA back into that box once it’s open, and anti-trade momentum takes over… (And) I don’t think this administration has any intention to (truly) withdraw from NAFTA.”

Just Posted

Red Deer County backs Canadian Finals Rodeo

Council approved $50,000 for the event’s inaugural event in Red Deer

Dance auditions held for 2019 Canada Winter Games

The 2019 Canada Winter Games committee is holding auditions for volunteers between… Continue reading

Red Deer convenience store robbed at gunpoint

Police still searching for suspect who robbed 7-Eleven at 40th Avenue and 38th Street

2019 Winter Games seeks artisan vendors

A winter market will be set up on the 2019 Canada Winter Games festival grounds

UPDATED: Stretching for a good cause at Central Alberta Yogathon in Red Deer

Funds raised go to Central Alberta Sexual Assault Support Centre

Halifax researchers tag great white shark in Atlantic Canada for first time

HALIFAX — For the first time in Atlantic Canadian waters, scientists have… Continue reading

Liberal riding association president blindsided by MP’s defection

OTTAWA — The president of an Ontario Liberal riding association says he… Continue reading

Pope gives bishops more decision-making options

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis decreed on Tuesday that ordinary Catholics should… Continue reading

Hurricane rating system fails to account for deadly rain

TRENTON, N.C. — When meteorologists downgraded Hurricane Florence from a powerful Category… Continue reading

Glad company: Trailer for Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

LOS ANGELES — A beloved nanny is preparing to take to the… Continue reading

Jeremy Dutcher wins Polaris prize for ‘Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa’

TORONTO — Jeremy Dutcher has won the 2018 Polaris Music Prize for… Continue reading

Statistics Canada reports manufacturing sales rose 0.9 per cent in July

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says manufacturing sales increased 0.9 per cent in… Continue reading

China raises tariffs on $60B of US goods in technology fight

BEIJING — China on Tuesday announced a tariff hike on $60 billion… Continue reading

Most Read