Rumblings that President Donald Trump was preparing to make drastic changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement sparked a scramble on either side of the US-Canada border, US sources said Tuesday, ultimately resulting in Trump easing his stance.
Alarm was first raised in Canada after reports emerged in late April that Trump was preparing an executive order that would launch the process of withdrawing the United States from NAFTA, the massive agreement that governs trade between Mexico, the US and Canada.
Numerous outlets, including CNN, reported that Trump was considering taking action on NAFTA as a cap on his hundred days in office. Such a move would fulfill a chief campaign promise to alter the accord, which Trump says is bad for American jobs.
But the reports caused anxiety both in Ottawa, where advisers to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau worried about the economic fallout, and at the White House, where some aides were concerned Trump was acting too quickly.
Reports differ on what, exactly, happened next.
Canadian media on Monday suggested that Trump aides – uneasy about a drastic change to US trade policy – contacted Ottawa directly, encouraging aides to Trudeau to set up a conversation between the President and Prime Minister to encourage Trump to back off withdrawing from NAFTA.
But according to a White House official, it was Canadian officials who phoned their US counterparts to discuss potential action on NAFTA, and to express concern about any move that would remove the US from the pact.
Among the officials contacted was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, senior adviser and a key interlocutor with foreign governments, including Canada’s.
Kushner advised members of Trudeau’s office that it would be preferable for the two leaders – Trump and Trudeau – to discuss the issue themselves, according to the official. He later called Trudeau’s top aide to advise her that Trump was available to speak on the issue in the evening.
It was after that call that Trump backed off a plan to withdraw the US from NAFTA. Instead, a description of the call from the White House indicated he told Trudeau – along with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on a separate call – that he had “agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time.”
Later, Trump told a crowd in Pennsylvania that his conversations with Trudeau and Nieto had altered his thinking.
“Two people that I like very much, the president of Mexico, prime minister of Canada, they called up, they said, can we negotiate? I said, ‘yes, we can renegotiate,’ ” Trump said.
CNN’s Paula Newton contributed to this report.