U.S. President Donald Trump said “it was an amazing thing” that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto called 10 minutes apart and asked almost identical questions late last month after the White House said the president was mulling a withdrawal from NAFTA.
“I was going to send them a letter … But the word got out, they called and they said, we would really love to … they called separately, but it was an amazing thing. They called separately 10 minutes apart.”
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During those phone calls, the Canadian and Mexican leaders asked Trump whether he’d be willing to negotiate the tri-partisan trade deal rather than toss it out, the president said.
Trump’s version of the calls – painting them as purely coincidental – diverges somewhat from a report that the president’s son-in-law appealed to Trudeau and Peña Nieto, setting the wheels in motion.
Two sources told The Canadian Press this week that Jared Kushner, who’s married to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, called Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford to say Trump had a few minutes free, if the prime minister might want to call the White House to speak about NAFTA.
Trudeau did just that and highlighted the economic disruption a sudden abandonment of the trade deal could cause. The Mexican president is said to have had a similar conversation and, a few hours later the White House issued a statement saying the president would not withdraw from the deal.
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The Associated Press, meanwhile reported Canada was the first to make a call, reaching out to Kushner to express concerns about the reports that Trump might terminate NAFTA.
Either way, NAFTA experts have said the whole thing was a negotiating tactic – something Trump denied in his Economist interview.
“I was all set to terminate, you know?” he said. “And this wasn’t like … this wasn’t a game I was playing. I’m not playing … you know, I wasn’t playing chess or poker or anything else.”
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His 180 – from hopping on the road to terminating NAFTA to agreeing to negotiate within a matter of hours – was a matter of respect, he said.
“It would have been very disrespectful to Mexico and Canada had I said, ‘I will not.’”
Asked what a “fair NAFTA” would look like, Trump said only he’s anticipating a “massive” renegotiation toward a deal that reduces the trade deficits the U.S. holds with Canada and Mexico.
With files from The Canadian Press