President Trump has threatened a quick termination of NAFTA a countless number of times, with the latest coming just last weekend via twitter:
We are in the NAFTA (worst trade deal ever made) renegotiation process with Mexico & Canada.Both being very difficult,may have to terminate?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
Of course, like with most Trump deals, it's often very difficult to differentiate between bombastic rhetoric utilized for establishing negotiating power and actual desired results. According to Bloomberg, so far the speed of U.S. negotiations, led by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, have failed to live up to the President's rhetoric leaving many to question whether a "deal" is the desired outcome for this administration.
The latest Nafta talks are nearing conclusion without a major breakthrough or agreements on even the least-contentious topics, officials familiar with the negotiations say, fueling doubts among observers that a deal can be reached this year.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is scheduled to speak publicly alongside Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland Tuesday to conclude the second round of talks toward a new North American Free Trade Agreement. Their appearance will cap a five-day session in Mexico City.
While negotiators have made some progress, they have yet to agree on any major contentious issue and are far from a deal on individual Nafta chapters, the officials said, asking not to be identified discussing private matters. On some topics, discussion has been verbal with no specific text proposals submitted, they said.
The talks came after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened outright withdrawal from the agreement. While slow progress is normal in most trade negotiations, the nations have been seeking an unusually quick timeline for Nafta, and officials expressed doubt a deal could be reached by the target date of December. That sentiment is shared by many observers and stakeholders who say the U.S. has been slow in detailing its actual demands.
Meanwhile, folks from all sides attending negotiating sessions in Mexico City have been surprised by the lack of U.S. engagement with one trade strategist from Canada predicting that the earliest date for a possible deal would be February or March 2018.
David Wiens, a farmer and vice president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said he’s been surprised by the lack of written and firm policy proposals put forward by the U.S. government. That makes him believe it’s "a bit unrealistic" to get a deal by December.
"What we’re hearing on the ground here is the Americans have still not posted all the texts for the different chapters," Wiens said in an interview in Mexico City. "If there’s a strategy behind all of that, I’m certainly not recognizing it.”
"They can’t possibly finish. The Americans haven’t started negotiating yet," said Peter Clark, a trade strategist and former Canadian official. Jerry Dias, a Canadian labor leader, said he’d "be shocked if it gets done before Christmas."
Clark said the earliest possible date for a deal is February or March, and even then it would likely be an agreement-in-principle that wouldn’t be finalized until after Mexican and U.S. elections. "It’s not really a negotiation. What you have is a president who says he’s been robbed for years," Clark said. "He wants to break a contract without any penalty."
Finally, the most critical component of the NAFTA negotiations (or at least the component that gets all the media attention), auto manufacturing, apparently hasn't even been touched yet.
One key issue without a firm policy proposal is what threshold the U.S. is seeking for the so-called rules of origin on the auto sector -- the share of a vehicle that must be sourced within Nafta countries to receive the pact’s benefits. The current level is 62.5 percent and Dias said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross wants a "significantly" higher figure.
The auto threshold is "the heart of the American objective," said Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association in Canada. "Negotiators will be very careful before pegging a rate that would drive assessments of success or failure.
The outlook isn’t entirely gloomy. One official described a two-track process -- a political one dominated by Trump’s threats, and a more constructive and technocratic track with negotiators plodding forward in search of agreement.
So what say you? Is this all a clever charade from a White House that has no real interest in negotiating and would rather withdraw from NAFTA altogether, or is it all just another sign of a woefully unprepared, chaotic administration?