NAFTA, the three way trade deal between Canada, the USA, and Mexico, now covers over a trillion dollars of trade between the nations since it was signed in 1992. Talks between governments are imminent, and while massaging the arrangements to keep up with a rapidly changing global economy will streamline trade between the countries concerned (after 25 years, the NAFTA agreement is already woefully outdated, especially given the meteoric rise of the internet), it is difficult to see how far Trump’s self-professed mastery of economic negotiations will actually be useful.
Trump’s concern for the loss of American manufacturing jobs in recent decades – to Mexico, but also to China and other states – is the lynch-pin of his ‘America First’ standpoint on international trade and policy. To give Trump the benefit of the doubt, the extent to which this is due to a genuine anxiety for the wellbeing of the poor and unemployed in the States or down to a selfish desire for lower costs as a real-estate developer is unclear. Is his racism a bigger factor than his greed? Both are certainly bigger factors than his sense for socialism, which is practically non-existent.
Nonetheless, although it secured a Republican vote in many states with high unemployment levels, the America First approach is not going to be helpful to the US economy in the long run. As globalisation marches on, solutions to national and international policy, or even more mundane or personal problems, which turn inward rather than outward, are bound to be less useful. The nationalist turn, which has engulfed politics here at home and across the pond, and briefly threatened to swallow up Germany and France, is looking more disastrous by the day. In the same way that dealing with selfish and solipsistic people is a pain that we could all do without, dealing with selfish nation states is not only a pain, but it can really damage the lives and bank accounts of your citizens.
the America First approach is not going to be helpful to the US economy in the long run
This American nationalism is at the root of the undeniable animosity between the current administrations in Mexico and the US, which will doubtless affect negotiations. With Trump’s threats of a wall ramping up in recent months, and his impetuous approach to national policy becoming more of a nuisance all the time, it is not going to be easy for Nieto to squeeze a mutually beneficial deal out of him. In his losing battle against the constitution of the United States, which limits Trump’s executive powers – inconveniently for him – the POTUS’s latest moves have been to throw temper tantrums over Obamacare and the Iran Nuclear Deal, forcing Congress into decisions on both with executive orders, in a move which Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut described on Twitter as ‘nuclear grade bananas’.
Trump’s impatience with the slow moving cogs and wheels of American government extends to his cabinet, too. Responding to rumours that Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, called him a ‘moron’, Trump challenged Tillerson to an IQ contest. There’s not a lot I wouldn’t give to see the two race each other to draw a trapezoid with a 2B, but the infighting doesn’t stop there; in a recent Vanity Fair article, two sources were cited claiming that Trump admitted that, with ‘a few exceptions’, he ‘hate[s] everyone in the White House’. What’s more, after very vocally backing the losing candidate in the Alabama primaries, Luther Strange, Trump’s behaviours and moods have become even less predictable.
Trump’s behaviours and moods have become even less predictable
Although it gives me great pleasure to catalogue the old fool’s many failures and public humiliations, I also list some here to drive home the point that he is not entering NAFTA negotiations with a cool head. The ‘Art of the Deal’ man made much of his history as a business dealer and real estate developer in the election race, but we are yet to see his alleged skill in engineering deals really produce anything concrete in terms of policy. The Repeal and Replace bill did not go through despite his best efforts, which only betrays a lack of diplomatic know-how on his part. This will not help the trio of nations involved in these talks to reach a satisfactory deal, and nor will Trump’s apparent willingness to oust Mexico from the agreement altogether if he isn’t satisfied by negotiations with that camp, hinting that he would be fine with it if NAFTA ended up being narrowed down to a bilateral trade agreement with Canada.
Trudeau is unusually good at handling Trump and his gigantic ego
Covering huge swathes of trade, especially agriculture and movement of people, NAFTA is hugely important to all three of its members, but to Mexico especially, whose economy is not as strong as Canada’s and the USA’s. Having such a comprehensive deal regulating trade between the three countries is a boon across the board, but has done much to elevate the Mexican economy since it was agreed in the early nineties. We know that Trudeau is unusually good at handling Trump and his gigantic ego, but we’ll have to wait and see what miracles he and Nieto can produce as talks get underway.