Donald Trump’s economic adviser says the U.S. has asked Canada to hold one-on-one North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations as trilateral talks sputter.
Larry Kudlow, director of the U.S. president’s National Economic Council, said Trump is now “very seriously contemplating a shift in NAFTA negotiations.”
“His preference now, and he asked me to convey this, is to actually negotiate with Mexico and Canada separately,” he told Fox News Tuesday.
Kudlow said he spoke with one of Canada’s “top people, right next to the prime minister” yesterday about the president’s “new thinking,” and is now awaiting a response from Canada that could come as early as today. He did not name the official.
“I’m waiting to hear what their reaction is going to be, frankly,” he said.
Kudlow explained that the new bilateral approach would be a way to address significant differences between the countries.
“Canada is a different country than Mexico, they have different problems and you know, he’s believed that bilateral has always been better,” Kudlow said of the president.
“He hates large treaties. 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”
Kudlow said Trump is not going to withdraw from NAFTA, but just wants to try a different approach. The president has in past floated the idea of bilateral deals if NAFTA talks fail.
His remarks came as tensions mount over the U.S. decision to end an exemption on steel and aluminum tariffs that had initially been granted for Canada, Mexico and the EU.
Canada countered by announcing it would slap an estimated $16.6 billion in duties on some steel and aluminum products and other goods from the U.S., including maple syrup, beer kegs, whisky and toilet paper.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the plan last week just hours after U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross confirmed the U.S. would impose tariffs of 25 per cent on imported steel and 10 per cent on imported aluminum, citing national security interests.
At a news conference announcing the new duties set to kick in July 1, Trudeau said he abandoned a proposed meeting with Trump in Washington last week after the White House insisted that he first agree to a five-year “sunset clause” in a renegotiated NAFTA.