Canada and Mexico Put Trump in the Timeout Corner after His NAFTA Tantrum
Trump Goes to Timeout Corner after Threatening Canada and Mexico
Donald Trump threw a big tantrum about the North American Free Trade Agreement this week, threatening to blow it up. As if to show it was serious, the White House fired a shot across Canada’s bow when it allowed an agreement to lift lumber tariffs lapse this week, despite strong Canadian objections. After talking to Justin Trudeau and Enrique Peña Nieto, the leaders of Canada and Mexico, Trump decided that he would keep the US in the agreement first reached in the early 1990s by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton–for now.
Although the US has a slight trade imbalance that favors America’s two North American neighbors, the countries are two of the US’s biggest trading partners. Risking a trade war, the sudden creation of widespread punitive tariffs, with either or both of them, could crush American businesses. An estimated 14 million American jobs rely on free trade with Mexico and Canada. And America’s two neighbors would likely have more options than the US if free trade seized up in North America. Canada and Mexico could look to the European Union, and China, Japan and South Korea for import markets as big as the US. For mid-sized American businesses that rely on trucking across the border, there would be nowhere else to go.
Perhaps Trudeau and Peña Nieto explained these things to Trump in a way that sounded better than the whims of his “very good brain.” Or perhaps they threatened him with a debilitating trade war that neither wants, but they both suspect they could wage successfully if it really came down to it. Either way, Trump’s brash, blustery attempts at intimidating his counterparts in any negotiation seem to have failed with Mexico and Canada’s leaders. The three leaders agreed to renegotiate NAFTA. But the way the Trump White House operates, the final deal is likely to include opportunities for Trump’s personal investments, but be a far worse deal for America overall.
This is becoming a general problem for Trump. He campaigned, in part, on the idea that, as the man with his name on the ghost-written book “The Art of the Deal,” he was a superior negotiator. In fact, as Donald wades deeper into the world of high politics for the first time in his life, the world is finding that he has little more negotiation skill than a used car salesman. He opens by bullying and cajoling, his bluffs quickly get called, then he has nothing real to offer, and ends up caving in the end. He is easily buttered up and falls into obvious traps routinely. World leaders and Congress are catching on to this. Trump promised his supporters that he would be a white nationalist authoritarian strongman. But with his top racist adviser, Stephen Bannon sidelined, and his White House unable to push the needle on anything significant, he is turning into a sub-par Republican weakman.
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