President Donald Trump lashed out Monday morning against two of America’s top international trading partners, attacking Canada for its treatment of U.S. farmers and demanding that Mexico do more to stop the cross-border flow of narcotics.
“We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada. NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for U.S.A. Massive relocation of companies & jobs. Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed,” Trump wrote on Twitter Monday across a pair of posts. “Also, Canada must treat our farmers much better. Highly restrictive. Mexico must do much more on stopping drugs from pouring into the U.S. They have not done what needs to be done. Millions of people addicted and dying.”
Trump’s distaste for NAFTA, which he has pledged to renegotiate or else withdraw the U.S. from, dates back to his 2016 campaign, when he regularly railed against it and other trade deals in speeches at his rallies. But the president has ramped up his protectionist rhetoric in recent days after announcing plans to install a fresh package of tariffs that he has argued will protect and bolster U.S. workers.
Those tariffs – 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum – have put the president at odds with some in the Republican Party, which has traditionally been supportive of free-trade policies. Some in the GOP have expressed concern that Trump’s protectionist policies have could hinder Republicans running for reelection in this year’s midterms.
And while his tariff proposals have already ruffled feathers both at home and abroad, the president suggested over the weekend that he might go further, threatening on Saturday to impose a tax on the import of European cars if the European Union levels increased tariffs on U.S. companies.
Negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico had set an informal deadline of March 31 to wrap up the renegotiation of NAFTA, but as the seventh negotiating round draws to a close on Monday in Mexico City, the widespread view among those close to the talks is that holding to that timeline is no longer possible. Negotiators have made progress on some lower-level issues, but the sides remain far apart on a series of controversial policy areas and proposals put forward by the Trump administration.
One of the most controversial issues, automotive rules of origin, is not being discussed at all in the seventh round after the lead U.S. negotiator on the issue was called back to Washington for meetings with automakers. NAFTA's automotive rules of origin determine how much of a vehicle's components must be sourced from within North America to qualify for tariff-free treatment under the deal. Talks in that area could be greatly influenced by tariffs on steel and aluminum -- two important raw materials used in automobile manufacturing.
The March 31 deadline was an effort to conclude the renegotiation before campaigning heats up ahead of the Mexican presidential election in July, as well as the battle for Congress in the midterm elections.
The seventh negotiating round is scheduled to conclude on Monday with a meeting of the three top trade officials from the NAFTA countries — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo. The ministers were also slated to hold a press conference, beginning around 3:15 p.m. Eastern on Monday.
The eighth round is expected to be held in Washington in early April. Further rounds beyond that have not been scheduled.