Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Trump Says US Will Not Leave NAFTA — For Now

President Donald Trump speaks before signing the Education Federalism Executive Order during a federalism event with governors in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, April 26, 2017.
Andrew Harnik / Associated Press
President Donald Trump speaks before signing the Education Federalism Executive Order during a federalism event with governors in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, April 26, 2017.
Trump Says US Will Not Leave NAFTA — For Now
Trump Says US Will Not Leave NAFTA — For Now GUEST: Jerry Sanders, president and CEO, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce

I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Thursday, April 27. The fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement moved to something like a pinball ball yesterday. The White House released word that president Trump is very close to issuing an executive order to withdraw from NAFTA last night from said he would not withdraw but rather renegotiate. America's partners in NAFTA -- Canada and Mexico said they would be open to renegotiation. In fact it worked to renegotiate the deal under President. Obama but the NAFTA withdrawal scare not the pace of down 2% inmate financial markets ANSI. Joining me to discuss what all this might mean for our border economy is former San Diego merit Jerry Sanders president and CEO of the San Diego regional Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Sanders welcome to the program. Smith thank you very much. Reporter: You are a member of the delegation of San Diego attend -- and he wanted that mess with Mexican leaders to discuss the importance of NAFTA. From the context we make of the events of the last two hours? I think they are tremendously positive . we were concerned that we were just unilaterally backout and obvious the president Trump has listened to a lot of people and realize that it is an important issue in I appreciate the fact he is willing to sit down and start talking about renegotiating. Reporter: Did you get any sense from the leaders in Mexico City that they were open to renegotiation son NAFTA ? They are and if you think about it NAFTA was formed over 20 years ago. E-commerce was not even around at that point and I think everyone recognizes the need to freshen it up and renegotiate specific points on it. Reporter: Are there problems with NAFTA as it now stands that could be improved? I think there are. Obvious the e-commerce was not around when NAFTA was originally negotiated over 20 years ago . I think also eliminating areas to service exports -- that is a big part of our exports and that is about $80 billion a year for our NAFTA partners about $56 billion to Canada and a little over $31 billion to Mexico. Those are important issues because it creates a lot of jobs in the US. Reporter: Apparently hasn't Trump threatened to pull out of NAFTA in a Tweet this morning again if negotiations don't go the way he wants into. You think that is a good bargaining strategy. It is not bargaining strategy I would certainly use but I think everyone is interested in making sure they can sit down and have an open dialogue and make sure all three countries actually can be made whole in at least in their eyes and I think there is a. To doing that. Reporter: We aired a report last week that featured help Mexican businesses were fighting new trade partners because they were concerned about the fate of NAFTA. Do think this will affect our business opportunities with Mexico? It certainly would kick if you think about what of the things that they found was corn producers in Iowa were very concerned because Mexico was out to South America looking for corn produces there and exports more corn to Mexico. That is just one example but there are a lot of examples of that. It will be important that we get the NAFTA negotiations beginning and over with quickly so we don't lose more trade. Reporter: Is there an example closer to home like here in our border economy about where Mexico might be finding new partners? They are looking -- they are part of the TPD. Trade relationships that even we don't have right now and the importance of San Diego is we have about 120,000 jobs in the San Diego region that are dependent on cross-border trade. So the more they look around, the more opportunities they have to find other partners and we certainly start losing out at some point.I think it is important to get it done and get it done well so that everybody understands the ground rules and trade can continue as it does. Reporter: There seems to be a lot of a bipartisan support for NAFTA not just here in San Diego but also in Washington DC -- like this this issue seem to cross party lines? It is an issue of trade. If you look at about 26 or 27 states in the United States, their noble it export partner is Mexico. So all of a sudden that means all those jobs and those states that are dependent on exports to NAFTA are through tonight to Mexico. That is a tremendous number of jobs and jobs are something that people are bipartisan about. They want to create those jobs. They want good jobs and these are jobs for instance a lot of the manufacturing equipment in Mexico probably 60% or 70% or 80% actually come from the United States. So those are good paying jobs in the United States and that affects all sides of the aisle. Reporter: Do you think we should expect to see a rocky road ahead as these renegotiate getaway -- renegotiations get underway? I think it will be somewhat rocky. We have not seen this side of the administration negotiated types of trade deals or really do any negotiated that all it will be a learning process for everyone. But once again we are grateful that the top administration is at least willing to sit down and start talking about these issues with our biggest trading partners. Reporter: I have been speaking with Jerry Sanders president and CEO of the San Diego regional Chamber of Commerce and thank you so much. Thank you.

President Donald Trump said he has told the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he will not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement at this time, but could still withdraw if he concludes a renegotiated pact is not "a fair deal for all."

Trump tweeted early Thursday that he has agreed to remain a partner in the much-discussed trade agreement in calls he received from Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The White House released a statement late Wednesday saying only that Trump had assured the two leaders in phone conversations that the U.S. would not withdraw from NAFTA at this time.

RELATED: Top Mexican Official Reassures San Diego-Tijuana Region On NAFTA

In his Twitter post, Trump called America's relationships with the two hemispheric neighbors "very good" and said the prospects of a renegotiated deal are "very possible." But he also said that his consent to remaining in NAFTA for now is "subject to the fact that if we do not reach a fair deal for all, we will then terminate NAFTA."

The White House statement said, "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."

RELATED: NAFTA Changes Could Put A Dip In Guacamole Sales

The statement came hours after administration officials said Trump was considering a draft executive order to withdraw the U.S. from the deal — though administration officials cautioned it was just one of a number of options being discussed by the president and his staff.

Some saw the threat as posturing by Trump to gain leverage over Mexico and Canada as he tries to negotiate changes to the deal. Trump railed against the decades-old trade deal during his campaign, describing it as a "disaster."

Senior White House officials had spent recent days discussing steps that could be taken to start the process of renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA before the end of Trump's first 100 days in office, according to a person familiar with the president's thinking. But the person, along with an administration official, said a number of options remained on the table, and stressed discussions are ongoing about the best way to proceed.

Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to comment on the order, which was first reported by Politico. "The president has made addressing the problems of NAFTA a priority throughout the campaign, and once the president makes a decision about how he wants to address that, we'll let you know," he said.

The administration appeared divided Wednesday over how and when to proceed, as officials balanced a newfound cautiousness with the desire to rack up accomplishments before Trump's 100th day on the job.

Some were gunning for Trump to sign a draft order this week, while others were weighing complications surrounding withdrawing from or renegotiating the deal without Congress fully on board. The debate played out in the media Wednesday as some outlets quoted officials insisting the signing was imminent, while other officials dismissed the reports as "just a rumor."

"My practice is to comment on things we've actually done or are doing as opposed to commenting on rumors," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told reporters at an unrelated White House briefing Wednesday evening.

Trump could withdraw from NAFTA — but he would have to give six months' notice. And it is unclear what would happen next. The law Congress passed to enact the trade pact might remain in place, forcing Trump to wrangle with lawmakers and raising questions about the president's authority to raise tariffs on Mexican and Canadian imports.

The moves came days after the administration announced it would slap hefty tariffs on softwood lumber being imported from Canada. Trump has also been railing against changes in Canadian milk product pricing that he says are hurting the American dairy industry.

Trump told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he planned to either renegotiate or terminate NAFTA, which he and other critics blame for wiping out U.S. manufacturing jobs because it allowed companies to move factories to Mexico to take advantage of low-wage labor.

"I am very upset with NAFTA. I think NAFTA has been a catastrophic trade deal for the United States, trading agreement for the United States. It hurts us with Canada, and it hurts us with Mexico," he said.

Another senior White House official declined to comment on "rumors" of specific actions. But that official said NAFTA has been a top priority for the president since Day One and said the administration has been working on it since taking office. That person also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration's thinking.

The Trump administration last month submitted a vague set of guidelines to Congress for renegotiating NAFTA, disappointing those who were expecting Trump to demand a major overhaul.

The Mexican government confirmed the conversation late Wednesday. "The leaders agreed on the convenience of maintaining the North American Free Trade Agreement and working together with Canada to carry out a successful renegotiation for the benefit of all three countries," the statement read.

Trudeau's office issued a brief statement saying "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."