NAFTA: Dead or Alive?

Here’s a transcript of the bizarre phone call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on the whatever-it-is they’re negotiating to maybe replace NAFTA. It’s fairly obvious that Peña Nieto wasn’t really talking about replacing NAFTA and is also looking to include Canada in the whatever-it-is they’re negotiating, which Trump is not. Trump, for his part, seems mostly eager to have a trade agreement he can call something besides NAFTA.

This has to do — they used to call it NAFTA. We’re going to call it the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement, and we’ll get rid of the name NAFTA. It has a bad connotation because the United States was hurt very badly by NAFTA for many years. And now it’s a really good deal for both countries, and we look very much forward to it.

After which, Peña Nieto said,

…the first reason for this call, Mr. President, is, first of all, to celebrate the understanding we have had between both negotiating peace on NAFTA, in the interest we have had for quite a few months now to renew it, to modernize it, to update it, and to generate a framework that will boost and potentiate productivity in North America.

It is our wish, Mr. President, that now Canada will also be able to be incorporated in all this. And I assume that they going to carry out negotiations of the sensitive bilateral issues between Mexico — rather, between Canada and the United States.

These two are not on the same page. Note that throughout the call Trump addressed the President of Mexico as “Enrique,” whiel the President of Mexico called Trump “President Trump” or “Mr. President.” Annoying.

Note also that Peña Nieto is a lame duck. President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will begin his administration on December 1. What he thinks of Trump and NAFTA I do not know, but according to the BBC, the Trump Administration is anxious to get the deal done before December 1.

Negotiators want to agree a deal before the newly elected Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, takes office in December. He has been reluctant to continue Enrique Pena Nieto’s police of opening up of Mexico’s energy sector, which could complicate negotiations.

In order to meet that deadline, the Trump administration must present Congress with a deal at least 90 days in advance – meaning the deadline is this Friday.

However, Mr Obrador said on Monday that the two-way agreement with the US was just the first step in a new treaty.

“We’re very interested in it remaining a three-country deal,” he said. “The free-trade agreement should remain as it was originally conceived.”

Charles Pierce:

Coming on the heels of the magnificent achievement of getting half the legislature to agree to kill the Affordable Care Act, which occasioned a White House hootenanny and came to nothing, and the towering diplomatic triumph with North Korea, which occasioned a brief burst of optimism and has come to nothing, we have a New Trade Deal With Mexico.

There will be a week or so of celebratory tweets and self-glorifying bloviating of all sorts — much of it, I’m ashamed to say, aimed at deflecting attention from the extended obsequies in Washington for John McCain this weekend. But Canada still has a vote here, and so does the Congress. My guess? NAFTA essentially will be back, rebranded under the TRUMP logo, and another great victory will be proclaimed.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board published today:

President Trump’s announcement Monday that he was replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement with a deal just with Mexico was, like so much of what comes out of the White House, as much posturing as policy.

For starters, there is no deal with Mexico, at least not yet. There’s a “preliminary agreement in principle” by the two sides to update certain provisions of NAFTA, but Mexican officials said multiple times Monday that they have a non-trivial precondition: Canada must be on board too.

Trump and other administration officials didn’t acknowledge as much Monday. Instead, Trump threatened to slap tariffs on more Canadian goods if our neighbor to the north didn’t accede to terms in short order.

Second, if Canada does join in, the deal would look a lot like the old NAFTA regardless of what it’s called. The changes agreed to by Mexico resemble what the Obama administration was pursuing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade deal with 11 mostly Asian countries that Trump abandoned — just with fewer partners.

So, basically, Trump jumped the gun, announced a “deal” before there was one, and will submit some pile of papers to Congress to approve this week so they can squeak something through before the deadline. They must anticipate that once Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in inagurated, all negotiations will be off, so this is their last chance to replace NAFTA with something not called NAFTA, even if it’s pretty much the same thing.

Kevin Drum analyzes the “deal” and finds it vague. And it’s all about cars.

Note that nothing in this deal has anything to do with milk or lumber or fisheries or financial services or anything else. It’s just a couple of smallish changes to the section of NAFTA about cars. That’s it. That’s all that Donald Trump cares about. Plus he wants to rename the treaty because everyone hates NAFTA. I recommend MENGA, the Make El Norte Great Again Treaty.

There’s nothing in this “deal,” as far as it goes, that ought to be objectionable to Canada, Kevin Drum says. It’s entirely possible that Canada might sign on to it this week before the deadline. But it doesn’t actually replace NAFTA; not even close.

Trump is already calling the deal that isn’t a deal “the largest trade deal ever,” which is too stupid and pathetic to even qualify as hyperbole.

This is my new favorite photo of Trump, btw:

U.S. President Donald Trump announces an agreement with Mexico on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque