Forget about deporting every illegal immigrant. Don’t bother nagging Mexico to pay for a wall that we don’t need anyway. On second thought, let’s keep the “One China” policy. President Trump’s best ideas invariably involve abandoning his extreme, unworkable, and dangerous ones. The latest example concerns a reversal on his threats to pull out of or significantly redo the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he falsely claimed was responsible for losing “millions” of U.S. jobs.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
“The blueprint for a new NAFTA shows the White House trying to navigate the shoals of striking a deal with its closest trading partners that can pass in U.S. Congress. It contains nods to Mr. Trump’s base of voters fearful and angry over lost U.S. manufacturing jobs — including the broad objective for reducing the U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA countries and an effort to retain rules that favor U.S. firms in government procurement.
“The plan also backs an unspecified mechanism to prevent countries from manipulating their currencies for trade advantage, an issue of increasing concern among lawmakers and some economists, though one less central to U.S. trade ties with Mexico and Canada. It also includes provisions meant to challenge Mexico on labor and environmental issues.”
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In other words, it’s a nothing-burger. At least that was the Canadian press reaction: “The NAFTA’s new objectives under the Trump administration — offered in an 18-page summary released Monday by the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office — are surprisingly tame, according to international trade and customs experts.”
The report added, “They see as downright sensible the U.S. proposals calling for regulatory co-operation, the addition of a chapter to address the digital economy, raising the duty-free spending limit for Canadians, and even the scrapping of a dispute resolution mechanism.” One trade guru is quoted as saying it is “nothing close to tearing up the NAFTA” and “doesn’t throw a lot of red meat for the protectionist crowd.”
Another noted, “Notwithstanding some protectionist objectives and measures announced in the document, it’s actually something that Canada and Mexico can work with.”
Reaction from Mexico was measured as well, as reported in Fortune:
“Mexico’s economy ministry said in a statement it would work ‘to achieve a constructive negotiation process that will allow trade and investment flows to increase and consolidates cooperation and economic integration to strengthen North American competitiveness.’
“Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Mexican government official said the list of priorities was “not as bad as I was expecting” and welcomed that the United States was not pushing to impose punitive tariffs, as Trump has threatened.”
The Wall Street Journal sees things the same way. “The quick Kremlinology says it’s the globalists, led by Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. president running the White House National Economic Council,” it reported. “That said, the battle isn’t over. Many of the provisions remain vague. And Mr. Trump has reserved the right to pull out altogether-the goal of his nationalist advisers-if he’s not pleased with the final result.”
If hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, then a Trumpkin trade policy is a nod to the benefits of free trade and the danger of trade wars. As frustrating as it might be to see Trump win office by touting nonsensical trade policy, it will be a relief if it turns out that he never meant what he said — or more likely, has no idea how trade policy should work.
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist.