WASHINGTON, U.S. – U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday stated renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is on the agenda when he meets with the leaders of Canada and Mexico.
“We’re going to start some negotiations having to do with NAFTA,” Trump said in one of his first appearances at the White House.
“Anybody ever hear of NAFTA?” he said. “I ran a campaign somewhat based on NAFTA. But we’re going to start renegotiating on NAFTA, on immigration, on security at the border.”
Trump said he had scheduled meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in a bid to revamp the 23-year-old trade pact, a key pledge he made during the campaign trail.
Trump was extremely critical of international trade deals in the run-up to the November 8 election.
He branded NAFTA a ‘total disaster’ and called it ‘the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country’.
Trump on Sunday went on to praise Mexico for being “terrific” the country’s President Enrique Peña Nieto – who spoke with the U.S. president by phone Saturday – as “really very amazing.”
Trump is scheduled to meet the Mexican president on January 31.
“We’re going to start renegotiating on NAFTA, on immigration, and on security at the border,” Trump said at the start of a swearing-in ceremony for top White House staff. “I think we’re going to have a very good result for Mexico, for the United States, for everybody involved. It’s really very important.”
The president’s commerce secretary pick Wilbur Ross in his confirmation hearing last week also said NAFTA renegotiation was a top priority for the new administration.
“We must solidify relationships in the best way we can in our own territory before we go off to other jurisdictions,” he said. “That will be a very, very early topic in this administration… I think all aspects of NAFTA will be put on the table.”
And the White House website had a statement posted on its website. “This strategy starts by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and making certain that any new trade deals are in the interests of American workers.”
“President Trump is committed to renegotiating NAFTA. If our partners refuse a renegotiation that gives American workers a fair deal, then the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA.”
The NAFTA agreement came into effect between the three countries of the United States, Canada and Mexico in 1994, creating one of the world’s largest free trade zones by reducing or eliminating tariffs on most products.
However, its benefit to Americans has been vociferously debated, with even former President Barack Obama critical of the agreement as a candidate.
Experts, however, feel negotiating a better deal for the U.S. might take several years, also saying NAFTA’s zero-tariff rate would be extremely difficult to alter.
Meanwhile, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton told reporters on Sunday his country was not the focus.
“I don’t think Canada is the focus at all,” MacNaughton said. “But we are part of NAFTA, and there are discussions that need to be had, and we’ll be having them over the next few weeks.”
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