President Donald Trump reiterated his threat to withdraw the U.S. from Nafta while saying that gains from a new deal could be used to pay for a wall at the Mexican border.
A day after Canadian officials said they viewed the odds of withdrawal as rising, Trump repeated his threat to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if it can’t be reworked in his favor, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing an interview with the president. However, Trump said he was willing to be “a little bit flexible” about the deal until after Mexico’s presidential election in July. He didn’t elaborate on what that means.
The president also suggested gains to the U.S. from a revamped Nafta could be used to pay for a southern border wall, which he has previously called on Mexico to finance. “They can pay for it indirectly through Nafta,” the newspaper quoted Trump as saying. “We make a good deal on Nafta, and, say, I’m going to take a small percentage of that money and it’s going toward the wall. Guess what? Mexico’s paying.”
Shortly after Trump’s inauguration last year, plans for a meeting between the president and his Mexican counterpart fell apart over the issue of paying for the wall. High ranking Mexico government officials Thursday remained adamant on this point.
“Let this be clear: the issue of payment for a #border #wall is not, and will never be, part of the #NAFTA #negotiations #wearenotjoking,” Mexico’s chief Nafta negotiator Kenneth Smith Ramos wrote in a Twitter post. Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said on his Twitter page that President Enrique Pena Nieto has been clear that Mexico won’t pay for the wall.
Canadian officials said this week there’s an increased likelihood Trump will follow through on his exit threat. Under the agreement, the U.S., Mexico and Canada can withdraw after giving six-months’ notice. The sixth round of talks is scheduled to start Jan. 23 in Montreal.
“Montreal is going to be a decisive round,” said Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade negotiator who is now vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington. It will be a positive sign if negotiators can close more chapters and agree to a way ahead on the most contentious issues, she said.
While she puts the chances of U.S. withdrawal at 50-50, “it’s too early to throw in the towel on these negotiations,” Cutler said.