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President Trump on Wednesday agreed not to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement “at this time” during phone calls with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, according to the White House.
Trump spoke with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to assure them that instead he would pursue a renegotiation of the landmark trade pact between their three nations.
“President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries,” according to a White House account of the calls.
Trump’s calls came just hours after it emerged that his administration was weighing an executive order announcing the president's intent to withdraw from NAFTA, which he has repeatedly bashed as a “disaster for our country.”
The measure was in draft form, but some officials were pushing for it to be finalized as soon as this week, ahead of Trump’s 100th day in office on Saturday. During his election campaign, Trump pledged to announce his intent to renegotiate or leave the pact by that benchmark date.
But that promise apparently took a back seat to political and diplomatic reality. Trump could unilaterally pull out of NAFTA but would have needed backup from Congress to make it stick. The draft order, however, was met with resistance from several Republican lawmakers.
Scrapping the 1994 agreement would have triggered widespread backlash from the U.S. business community and recriminations from Ottawa and Mexico City.
It was the second time in two days that Trump and Trudeau had talked about their trade relationship.
The Canadian government released a more vague statement Wednesday than its account of the Tuesday call, which made clear Trudeau’s displeasure with Trump’s posturing on trade.
“The prime minister spoke this evening with President Trump of the United States,” the Canadian government said in a Wednesday statement. “The two leaders continued their dialogue on Canada-U.S. trade relations, with the prime minister reinforcing the importance of stability and job growth in our trade relations.”
Trump had signaled in recent days his desire to get tougher with Canada, which is the country’s second-largest trading partner, by slapping tariffs on softwood lumber imports and threatening retaliation for Canadian taxes on U.S. dairy products.
During the Tuesday call, the Canadian government said Trudeau refuted what it called the "baseless allegations" backing the softwood lumber tariffs and called them "unfair."