After a long hiatus of silence Donald Trump took recently he is back at attacking the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the same old clichés he made during his campaign, convincing a bunch of disgruntled Americans that it was “a disaster.”
In Milwaukee Tuesday he once again issued a series of post-truths blaming NAFTA for the United States’ woes and threatening to made “great changes” and, if they don’t come about to favor U.S. workers, to just walk out of it.
“NAFTA has been very bad for our country, for our business and our workers,” he assured Wisconsin’s people who voted him president based on his protectionist promises. He said a lot more anti-NAFTA offenses but repeating will just constitute beating up a dead horse. We’ve heard them all.
And on top of that, he complained about that “ridiculous thing” of having to notify Congress 90 days in advance that negotiations should start. The fact is that Trump can be whining about NAFTA all he wants, but a few things must happen first before Congress admits entrance of the notification to begin NAFTA negotiations, and seemingly, that’s going to take more time.
The first step is for Congress to approve the nomination of his U.S. Trade Representative candidate Robert Lighthizer, a process that may start as soon as Congress resumes activities next Monday, April 24. Lighthizer’s nomination must first go into different committees and then be voted by the Senate on the floor. This process may take longer than wanted because it’s a fact that Democratic senators at the Finance Committee have no sympathy either for Lighthizer or anything that Trump may send their way, for that matter. But still, they will weigh the possibilities, but that will take “ridiculous” time.
Then the proposal which he would like to bring to the negotiating table with Canada and Mexico, and of which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross already has an outline of the changes, has to be sent — what a drag — to the Senate for further discussion and approval. Once approval is granted, the 90-day clock to start renegotiations will start ticking. This may come late May or early June.
How long will negotiations take? In reality there should be no rush because the three partnering nations — Canada, the United States and Mexico — should be satisfied and agree on the terms of what’s best for each. Will negotiations be tough? You bet, but then that’s what negotiations are all about, getting the best for your side.
Time will play a great role once the negotiating gets going. First, there are mid-term elections in November 2018 in the United States in which the Democratic Party will launch a portentous campaign to regain seats in the Senate.
For Mexico, there will be presidential elections the first Sunday of June, and that too will count because the President Enrique Peña Nieto would like to deliver a renegotiated NAFTA his last day in office on Nov. 30, 2018.
In all this expect Canada to have few problems except on some of its protected areas, namely lumber and dairy, which Trump promised the people of Wisconsin Tuesday to open up for U.S. benefit. We’ll see.
The big renegotiation is with Mexico: While Trump claims Mexico is stealing jobs and industries from the United States and wants them back “to make America great again,” this is not possible without giving something in exchange, because one of Mexico’s trump (pardon the pun) cards is security. This means that unlike in the original negotiation, it will include the issues of immigration, the war against drug manufacturing and trafficking, keeping an eye on potential anti-U.S. terrorists and yes, the wall.
Linking commerce and security will be at the crux of the Mexican positioning and reality has it that if the United States wants the Mexican government to continue cooperating on the security issue, it must offer something in return.
On this issue Trump can threaten and say all he wants, but just listening to the tone of speech his Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and State Department Secretary Tex Tillerson are saying, they are all milk and honey towards Mexico. Both have admitted that Donald Trump is hated and not welcome in Mexico and that the path for future good relations is not the collision course. And in the end, negotiations are never direct with a president — they were not with Papa George Bush and they will not be with The Donald, who has to wait until the final product is sent to his desk for approval.
But for now, the NAFTA clock is not ticking, not just yet!