President Trump again floated the possibility that the United States may terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) even as trade negotiators kick off the next round of talks across the Potomac.
Trump gave the chances that the United States, Canada and Mexico could reach a deal on updating the 23-year-old pact even odds during an Oval Office meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday.
"It's possible we won’t be able to make a deal and it’s possible that we will," Trump told reporters at the White House.
"But we’ll see if we can do the kind of changes we need," he said.
"We have to protect our workers and, in all fairness, the prime minister wants to protect Canada and his people also."
When asked by a reporter if the deal is dead, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens. We have a tough negotiation, and it’s something that you will know in the not so distant future."
Even if Trump wanted to ditch the NAFTA on his own, the constitutional power to leave or terminate the deal rests with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Short of an agreement, the president lobbed another long-shot caveat back into the mix — a North American deal that the United States would negotiate individually with Mexico and Canada.
When asked if NAFTA doesn't work out if Trump could see individual deals with Mexico and Canada, he responded, "Yes, I would see that."
That move is a likely non-starter in Congress. Trade experts have argued that the economies of the three countries are too closely integrated to negotiate separate agreements.
Following the meeting, Trudeau said at the Canadian Embassy that he is optimistic that the three trading partners can reach a deal to modernize the long-standing agreement, especially with millions of jobs relying on trade.
Trudeau, who is headed to Mexico next, said that despite Trump's comments that the U.S. might withdraw from the deal or negotiate separate agreements, he and the president have an understanding that they want the agreement to benefit all three countries.
"It's imperative that we get a fair deal for Canadians, Americans and Mexicans alike," he said.
Trump made similar assertions that the deal needs to benefit all three nations amid the specter of a withdrawal.
"I’ve been opposed to NAFTA for a long time in terms of the fairness of NAFTA," Trump said.
"I said we'll renegotiate. I think Justin understands this, if we can’t make a deal it’ll be terminated and it will be fine," he said.
"They’re going to do well and we’re going to do well. But maybe that won’t be necessary, but it has to be fair to both countries."
Trudeau said he and Trump reiterated their "commitment to working together in good faith to give the deal a much needed upgrade."
Still, Trudeau acknowledged that circumstances are often challenging and that Canadians "have to be ready for anything."
"And we are," he said.
Negotiators from the three countries met on Wednesday for the fourth round of NAFTA talks in Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
Talks have been extended two extra days to allow more time to discuss a broad agenda that is expected to cover more than two dozen topics.