McALLEN — A step toward a new North American Free Trade Agreement early last week was dealt a setback Saturday with President Donald Trump threatening to terminate the two-decade old treaty that transformed the Rio Grande Valley.
Early in the week, Trump announced a “trade understanding” with Mexico, without revealing details. But that was the first sign of public progress toward a possible agreement, after Mexico, the United States and Canada began renegotiating NAFTA a year ago. After several rounds of negotiations in the three country’s capitals throughout the last year, talks stalled a bit while Mexico held its presidential election in July.
Now, following Trump’s announcement, political hurdles follow: a new Congress is about to take office in Mexico, not to mention a new president before year’s end, and the U.S. midterms loom in November. If Trump intends to send a new trade agreement to Congress, he has to notify the body well in advance. And Trump seems to be one of the few interested in leaving Canada out of a new deal.
“There is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “If we don’t make a fair deal for the U.S. after decades of abuse, Canada will be out. Congress should not interfere with these negotiations or I will simply terminate NAFTA and we will be far better off.”
Tony Garza, the former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico under President George W. Bush, said not having Canada would hurt trade across the continent.
“Look, Mexico may be the United States’ number three trading partner and second largest market for exports, but Canada’s number one in both categories,” Garza said in an interview. “So yes, I think Canada’s got to be involved.”
Garza acknowledged Trump’s announcement of a “trade understanding” was a step in the right direction, but explained that the Trump administration needs to move quickly to strike a deal before political hurdles get in the way. The Rio Grande Valley members of Congress also welcomed the trade news.
“This is a clear signal that the administration is serious about solidifying a final deal on an updated NAFTA that will continue to spur growth and economic development for both countries, as it has since its inception over two decades ago,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, about the deal earlier this week.
Cuellar’s colleagues, Reps. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, both said they were encouraged by the step Trump took. Vela, however, was not as bullish.
“The preliminary deal really isn’t a deal yet,” Vela said. “The administration has not yet revealed details of the agreement to Congress.”
If the details emerge, Congress will need to sift through them quickly.
“If the Trump team doesn’t,” Garza said, “we’re likely to find ourselves in a holding pattern well into 2019 because Mexico is about to get a new Congress , the U.S. midterms are fast approaching and Canada’s got it’s own elections next year. And that kind of uncertainty is not in anyone’s interest.”