President Donald Trump pushed ahead Monday with efforts to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, as the President announced a tentative trade deal with Mexico, and put public pressure on the Canadian government to join in talks on a new agreement, or face fresh U.S. tariffs on autos sent from Canada to the United States.
“It’s a big day for trade, a big day for our country,” the President joyfully declared in the Oval Office, as he spoke with the Mexican President by telephone in front of reporters.
“It’s an incredible deal, it’s an incredible deal for both parties,” the President said, as trade negotiators capped almost a year of meetings with Mexican officials.
“It’s an extremely historic time,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
Getting rid of NAFTA – or making major changes to that trade deal – was a main campaign promise in 2016 for the President, who has long argued that the deal was tilted in favor of both Canada and Mexico, at the expense of American workers and businesses.
“I think NAFTA has a lot of bad connotations for the United States because it was a rip-off,” the President told reporters.
In Congress, lawmakers were encouraged by the announcement, but they also wanted to see the details of the deal, which might not be finalized for another few months.
“We still need to review the text of the tentative agreement with Mexico, but this is an important step forward,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
“While we are still waiting to see the details of the final deal, it’s critical that any agreement include serious, enforceable labor and environmental standards to create a level playing field,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR).
While Republicans also wanted to see the details, they said this was more evidence of a promise made by the President – and a promise kept.
“President Trump deserves a great deal of credit for making sure that America is treated fairly and is the best place in the world to do business,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).
“Today’s agreement with Mexico is an important step forward in renegotiating fair trade deals,” said Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC).
“We hope that Canada can join in – and we expect them to begin that process very soon,” said Lighthizer, who has been in charge of the complicated negotiations.
“With respect to the U.S. and Mexico, we have an agreement that is absolutely terrific,” Lighthizer told reporters.
In a briefing for reporters after the President’s announcement, it still wasn’t clear when the deal would be finalized – it could be as soon as 90 days – but if the goal is to still include Canada in what would be an updated NAFTA trade pact, then that would most certainly delay final action into next year.