Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin complained yesterday that he doesn’t know why the House hasn’t yet brought NAFTA 2.0 – the “United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement” trade deal – to the floor for consideration. It was an odd thing to say: the Trump administration hasn’t yet sent the agreement to Congress, so for now, there’s nothing to bring to the floor.
Complicating matters, Donald Trump, who’s repeatedly bragged about the deal, seems to be going out of his way to undermine it, threatening to impose steep new tariffs on cars made in Mexico if the White House isn’t satisfied with our neighbor’s immigration policies. Of course, one of the principal problems with this, as the Washington Post noted, is that the Trump administration has already committed not to do what the president has said he’s prepared to do.
In October, his administration announced the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, a trade deal that most observers agreed offered relatively modest changes to the provisions in NAFTA. It will probably go before Congress for ratification this year. The agreement also included several side letters, one of which, already in effect, explicitly exempts both Canada and Mexico from tariffs imposed by the United States on as many as 2.6 million vehicles imported into the United States each year.
This wasn’t an accident. Trump’s threat “is the exact scenario that the Mexican negotiating team predicted and secured protections from in the USMCA,” trade lawyer Daniel D. Ujczo told the Associated Press. “Mexico ‘Trump-and-Tweet-proofed’ its auto sector,” he said, adding that Trump “would need to get very creative to impose auto tariffs on Mexico” in light of that agreement.
Over the weekend, Fox News asked Trump how he could impose tariffs on cars manufactured in Mexico when his own trade agreement precludes that possibility. The president replied, “We haven’t finished our agreement yet.”
That’s the same agreement the Trump administration is impatiently waiting for Congress to vote on.
None of this makes sense. According to the White House, NAFTA 2.0 is done and awaiting lawmakers’ approval. Last week, Vice President Mike Pence hit the road in order to promote the agreement and increase some political pressure in the hopes of improving its prospects.
What’s more, the policy protecting Mexico from newly imposed tariffs on cars is already in effect.
And yet, there’s Trump, saying the USMCA plan isn’t finished, threatening new tariffs that he can’t impose, and promising to close the border altogether unless his poorly defined expectations are met.
A separate Washington Post report added, “Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior over the past 12 days – since he first threatened to seal the border in a series of tweets on March 29 – has alarmed top Republicans, business officials and foreign leaders who fear that his emotional response might exacerbate problems at the border, harm the U.S. economy and degrade national security.”
Under the circumstances, can anyone blame them for being alarmed? The president seems to be throwing around reckless ideas – in public, for the world to see – without regard for his own policies.