This week was a mixed bag on the trade front.
On the bright side, the Trump administration managed to strike a bilateral agreement with Mexico that ostensibly set the table for Canada to return to the negotiating table on the way cementing a final deal to rewrite NAFTA.
On the not-so-bright side, multiple sources told Bloomberg that the President is all set to move ahead with tariffs on an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods as early as next week, when the public comment period expires. Additionally, Trump told Bloomberg in a sweeping interview published Thursdsay that the E.U.’s proposal to “go to zero” on auto tariffs contingent on reciprocation from the U.S., “isn’t good enough“, a comment that sent European auto shares tumbling to close the month.
On balance, then, the news was bad, because an escalation with China and the renewed tensions with Europe on auto tariffs far outweigh the deal with Mexico, which is itself likely contingent on Canada joining up.
“While we have long viewed a NAFTA termination announcement to be possible, we do not believe that termination would take effect without a replacement policy”, Goldman wrote, in a note out earlier this week, adding that “Congress is unlikely to approve a US-Mexico agreement unless Canada is party to that deal or something similar, which would leave the White House with a choice between a revised pact among the US, Canada, and Mexico, or no trade agreement at all.”
Well as it turns out, Trump had some harsh words for Canada in his wide-ranging Bloomberg interview. Those comments were supposed to be off the record, because, to quote the President, “it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal.” Unfortunately, the Toronto Star got ahold of those comments and published them. Here they are:
Here’s the problem. If I say no — the answer’s no. If I say no, then you’re going to put that, and it’s going to be so insulting they’re not going to be able to make a deal … I can’t kill these people.
Off the record, Canada’s working their ass off. And every time we have a problem with a point, I just put up a picture of a Chevrolet Impala.
It’s not at all clear what any of that means (apparently there’s a GM plant in Oshawa), but it certainly has a negative feel to it. If you’re wondering whether he actually said that, the Star has this to offer:
Trump made the remarks in an Oval Office interview with Bloomberg. He deemed them off the record, and Bloomberg accepted his request not to reveal them. But the Star is not bound by any promises Bloomberg made to Trump.
The Star was not able to independently confirm the remarks with 100 per cent certainty, but the Canadian government is confident they are accurate. Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, who was one of the journalists in the room, did not dispute their authenticity.
The White House did not did not deny the general thrust of the comments.
Clearly, this is all kinds of insulting for Trudeau’s emissaries and only serves to heighten tensions between Trump and “Justin”, as the U.S. President derisively refers to the Canadian Prime Minister.
According to the Globe and Mail, talks between the U.S. and Canada soured materially on Thursday evening. A deal before the weekend was thought to be unlikely as of late Friday morning. To wit:
Talks between Canadian and U.S. trade negotiators turned sour Thursday night and Trudeau government officials are privately expressing genuine concern that a final NAFTA deal will not be concluded on Friday, the deadline set by U.S. President.
The pessimism was heightened after the Toronto Star obtained a transcript of off-the-record remarks from an Oval office interview the President gave to Bloomberg on Thursday, where he was quoted as saying he is not making any compromises at all in the talks with Canada.
“Both the Canadian and U.S teams have been working hard this morning, but we are not there yet,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters on Friday morning, adding that while Canadians are a people that are adept at “finding win-win” solutions, “at the end of the day, we are only going to sign a deal that’s good for Canada.”
Maybe she just needs to see another picture of Trump’s Chevy Impala.
Here's a fuller version of Trudeau's response to the leaked Trump remarks. By sheer coincidence, Trudeau was in Oshawa, home of the Chevy Impala Trump claims to have wielded a picture of. pic.twitter.com/EBe7kFm9MR
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 31, 2018
I am very doubtful Trump actually wields a photo of a Chevy Impala
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) August 31, 2018