Diplomatic talks between the United States and Canada over the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) were dramatically upended on Friday, after the Toronto Star leaked comments from President Donald Trump revealing that he was not willing to negotiate on any terms of the deal.
According to the publication, Trump made the comments to Bloomberg News on Thursday and requested that they be off the record. Another source then leaked the comments to the Star, which is not bound by the same request.
Trump told Bloomberg reporters that he is not willing to make any compromises, but wasn’t willing to say this on the record because it would scuttle the likelihood of reaching an agreement.
As the Star reported, Trump went on to say:
“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,” he said of the Canadian government.
In another remark he did not want published, Trump said, according to the source, that the possible deal with Canada would be “totally on our terms.” He suggested he was scaring the Canadians into submission by repeatedly threatening to impose tariffs.
“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,” Trump said, according to the source. The Impala is produced at the General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ontario.
The United States and Mexico came to a preliminary agreement — not a final deal — on Monday. Trump then set a Friday deadline on Canada to sign on to the deal by threatening tariffs on its automotive exports. (These tariffs would still need to be approved by Congress.)
Trump is trying to push along the talks so quickly because he needs to give formal notice to Congress 90 days before he signs such an agreement. If the 90 days begins on Friday, Trump would be able to sign the deal by December 1, when current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will be replaced by President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador. While López Obrador had representatives at the talks, it would be preferable from the White House’s point of view to sign the agreement before Mexico’s transition of power, rather than run the risk of having to go through the entire diplomatic process again.
As ThinkProgress’ D. Parvaz previously reported, such a trade deal simply won’t succeed without Canada’s inclusion.
The current U.S.-Mexico deal, for example, includes a “rule of origin” clause that says that 75 percent of each automobile (meaning the core parts such as engines and transmissions) must be sourced within the NAFTA zone. This standard would be incredibly hard to meet without Canada’s participation.
Of course, it’s about more than just cars. A worsening U.S.-Canada relationship would affect security, border cooperation, and other areas of foreign policy of mutual interest.
Bloomberg’s editor-in-chief John Micklethwait did not dispute the veracity of Trump’s leaked comments. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau team also told the Star that they believed the comments were accurate.
Trudeau’s officials unveiled the quotes to their U.S. counterparts in the meetings with U.S. officials.
Trump had told Bloomberg that a deal was “close” and that it “may be by Friday or it may be within a period of time.” Trump then added, “Off the record: totally on our terms. Totally.”
“Again off the record, they came knocking on our doors last night. ‘Let’s make a deal. Please.'”
According to the Washington Post, when asked whether the Trump team was still negotiating in good faith — after the comments were revealed — Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland paused and then replied, “Our starting positions were very far apart… We will be back later today.”