Trudeau, Trump speak for second night about US-Canada trade

Trudeau, Trump speak for second night about US-Canada trade
© Getty Images

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Trump spoke Wednesday for the second straight night, following reports that the United States is considering withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Trump administration is weighing whether to issue an executive order that would eventually lead the United States to leave the 1990s-era pact with Mexico and Canada.


The Canadian statement Wednesday was vaguer than the one released after Tuesday night’s call about the Trump administration's tariffs on softwood lumber and dairy as tensions over trade grow between the two partners. 

“The prime minister spoke this evening with President Trump of the United States,” the Canadian government said in a 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.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Wednesday night attempted to tamp down the talk surrounding the potential of an executive order on NAFTA.

“There was a rumor today there would be an executive order, just a rumor,” he told reporters on Wednesday evening. 

The executive order is unnecessary because countries are allowed to leave NAFTA six months after providing written notice to the other member countries.

Still, Trump could provide that notice while sending his intent to Congress to renegotiate the agreement.

Trump and Trudeau talked on Tuesday night about the Commerce Department’s decision to levy a 20 percent duty on Canada’s softwood lumber imports.

Trudeau refuted what he called the "baseless allegations" about the his nation's lumber industry. He called the duties "unfair" while saying the leaders agreed to reach a deal on the dispute, which goes back to the 1980s.

A possible departure from the three-nation pact with Mexico and Canada brought expressions of concern from the agricultural sector, several lawmakers on Capitol Hill and labor unions. 

Ron Moore, president of the American Soybean Association, said the move to leave NAFTA would have “disastrous consequences” for the nation’s leading agricultural export. 

“Without mincing words, initiating a process to withdraw from NAFTA is a terrible idea, and it will only mean a longer and more difficult struggle for farmers to recover in this economy,” Moore said.

The AFL-CIO's Thea Lee said the U.S. should “make a good faith effort to fix” the agreement before withdrawing. 

“Better to get the details right than to rush into an ill-defined process,” Lee said in a statement.

“Clearly, major changes to NAFTA are needed. If that isn't possible, we'll have no choice but to withdraw. But we believe the changes we've outlined are the best solution for working families."

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers expressed concern about any move to scrap the long-standing North American agreement.  

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said that if press reports are true, “an executive order to withdraw the United States from NAFTA would create incredible uncertainty and hinder our ability to create jobs here in America.”

“Like most of my Democratic colleagues, I voted against NAFTA and want to see it fixed,” Neal said.

“But threatening to withdraw from NAFTA even before negotiations begin to fix the trade agreement won't give us more leverage."

Some experts have argued that the move is designed to give Trump more leverage during an anticipated renegotiation.

Several Republicans also questioned the move.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain promotes July 17 as #GBMday to raise awareness of father's cancer The peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Ocasio-Cortez fires back at Lindsey Graham: 'Graham wants to bring back 1950s McCarthyism' MORE (Ariz.) said leaving NAFTA “would be a disaster” and the U.S. “shouldn't abandon this vital trade agreement.”

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake urges Republicans to condemn 'vile and offensive' Trump tweets Flake responds to Trump, Jimmy Carter barbs: 'We need to stop trying to disqualify each other' Jeff Flake responds to Trump's 'greener pastures' dig on former GOP lawmakers MORE, also from Arizona, similarly called on Trump not to “abandon it."

And Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a state with major agricultural interests, said that while the deal needs to be modernized, “scrapping NAFTA would be a disastrously bad idea.”

Trump has long railed against NAFTA, calling it a “disaster for our country.” 

But after meeting with Trudeau earlier this year, Trump appeared to change his view, saying he wanted to only pursue “tweaks” to Canada’s side of the deal.

A memo from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative circulated last month around Capitol Hill suggesting a few changes to NAFTA. But the White House has stepped away from that policy document.

The Senate still needs to approve Trump's pick to run the trade office — Robert Lighthizer — who is expected to help shepherd through the White House's ambitious trade agenda.

The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved Lighthizer for the trade job.