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Amid reports of US NAFTA pullout, Mexico leaned on diplomacy

30 April 2017

"I will", Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

Indeed, some of the president's fellow Republicans warned Trump that an abrupt withdrawal from NAFTA would be risky.

On Thursday, Trump wrote on Twitter that he had spoken with the leaders of Canada and Mexico who asked to renegotiate the trade pact.

The White House said Trump spoke by telephone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that he would hold back from a speedy termination of NAFTA, in what was described as a "pleasant and productive" conversation. "It's been very good for Mexico, but it's been terrible for the United States, '" Trump said during a meeting with Argentine President Mauricio Macri in the Oval Office of the White House. It's part of the reason the White House has yet to formally notify Congress of its plans to renegotiate the deal.

The White House announcement came hours after administration officials said Trump was considering a draft executive order to withdraw the US from the deal - though administration officials cautioned it was just one of a number of options being discussed by the president and his staff.

But even a president's threats have their limits.

And the business of making those promises a reality, coupled with his lack of relevant Washington experience, has left Trump with few choices beyond sticking to his rhetorical guns while scrambling behind the scenes to find ways to convert those bold ideas into sound policy. Among the many criticisms, Trump has regularly called the trade agreement one of the worst deals the US has ever made.

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One of Trump's first major acts after becoming president in January was to pull out of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

And while he has continued to decry the USA trade deficit with China and recently tied widespread loss of manufacturing jobs to the Asian powerhouse, Trump has confronted the reality of the US's complicated and delicate relationship with China in the last month as he's sought to enlist China in efforts to tame an increasingly belligerent North Korea.

Mexican officials reached out to various interlocutors in the U.S. government who, he said, told them that no final decision had been made and the draft was under consideration more as a way to pressure the U.S. Congress to speed up the process of getting to the negotiating table. He has long accused Mexico of destroying U.S. jobs.

But Trump and his White House did not come to learn the limitations of his presidency and the realities of governing until after the bruising first weeks of his presidency. "I highlighted, quite frankly, there were an terrible lot of jobs, an bad lot of industries right now that have been developed under the NAFTA context".

The initial salvo on that ban came within days of Trump's inauguration and with little consultation with government agencies that would typically be consulted.

Withdrawing from NAFTA would enable him to say he delivered on one of his key campaign promises, but it could also hurt him in states that voted for him in the election. And amid his quest to get a bill passed as soon as possible, Trump failed to help bridge those differences and was forced to accept a loss, canceling a scheduled vote on the House floor.

Mexico had expected to start NAFTA renegotiations in August but the possible executive order could add urgency to the timeline.

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Trump conceded that renegotiating NAFTA is simpler: "And so I decided (to do that) rather than terminating NAFTA, which would be a pretty big shock to the system". "It doesn't take place of something statutory". But it may have been even harder on the US, and Trump would have faced intense opposition from business groups and high-profile Republicans in Congress.

"If you check my campaign, any of my speeches, I said I'll either renegotiate or I'll terminate", the president said Thursday.

"In the end, there will be some minor changes to NAFTA and victory will be declared".

Trump's late-Wednesday statement said he would not withdraw "at this time". "It's going to be different".

"Mr. Trump doesn't have that much leverage - and Canada and Mexico know that", said Patrick Leblond, a non-resident fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and a University of Ottawa professor.

"If I'm unable to make a fair deal, if I'm unable to make a fair deal for the United States, meaning a fair deal for our workers and our companies, I will terminate NAFTA", he said.

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Amid reports of US NAFTA pullout, Mexico leaned on diplomacy