Trump wants separate, 1-on-1 NAFTA talks with Canada, Mexico, adviser says

June 06, 2018 07:53 PM

WASHINGTON—U.S. President Donald Trump wants to split NAFTA negotiations in two, pursuing separate deals with Canada and Mexico rather than trying to update the three-country North American pact, Trump’s top economic adviser says — but it was unclear on Tuesday whether the president was doing anything to act on that desire.

Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said Trump was “not going to withdraw from NAFTA” but wanted to try “a different approach” because the three-country negotiations have stalled. Kudlow said the administration was waiting to hear back from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government about the idea of separate negotiations.

The Trudeau government shrugged off Kudlow’s remarks as insignificant chatter, noting that Trump has long expressed the opinion that two-country deals are better than multi-country deals. A Canadian official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Trump administration had not made any official request about splitting up the talks.

“People have speculated about separate negotiations for about 18 months now. As Canada has maintained right from the beginning, we believe in a trilateral NAFTA,” Andrew Leslie, parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister on Canada-U.S. relations, told reporters in Ottawa.

“There’s all sorts of sounds coming from all sorts of sources. We react to the facts,” Leslie said.

Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to express a firm preference for separate negotiations. Sanders said the president is “open” to separate agreements but that the best deal for American workers might come through NAFTA.

Kudlow said Trump had asked him to express his preference for separate negotiations.

“Yesterday we met with the president a couple times, and he is very seriously contemplating kind of a shift in the NAFTA negotiations. His preference now, and he asked me to convey this, is to actually negotiate with Mexico and Canada separately. He prefers bilateral negotiations, and he’s looking at two much different countries,” Kudlow said.

“Canada is a different country than Mexico, they have different problems, and you know, he’s believed that bilaterals have always been better,” Kudlow said. “He hates these multilateral — the large treaties. Now I know this is just three countries but still, you know, oftentimes when you have to compromise with a whole bunch of countries you get the worst of the deals.”

Peter Clark, an Ottawa-based trade lawyer, said Canada is better served by a three-country negotiation.

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