President Donald Trump is considering issuing an executive order to pull the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, senior administration officials said on Wednesday, although the timing of the action is uncertain. The move, which one source said might come as soon as Trump’s 100th day in office on Saturday, could unravel one of the world’s biggest trading blocs. News of the potential presidential action drove the Mexican and Canadian currencies lower.
Trump had threatened to renegotiate the NAFTA pact during the election campaign as he said it had destroyed American jobs, although he has backed off tough action in trade since taking office in January.“There is some discussion,” said another source with direct knowledge of the discussions. “There are some who are pushing for things sooner rather than later but that’s the same on every issue.”
Mexico’s peso and Canada’s dollar fell against the U.S. dollar, with the peso shedding about 1.5 percent in just over an hour, while Canada’s “loonie” lost about 0.45 percent. Stocks in both US neighbors also weakened, with Mexico’s benchmark IPC index falling more than 1 percent in 15 minutes.
A disruption in trade between the three NAFTA partners could wreak havoc in the auto sector and other industries, hitting profits at companies that have benefited from zero-level tariffs and Mexico’s relatively low labor costs. It would also hit U.S. agricultural exports hard.
“To totally abandon that agreement means that those gains are lost,” said Paul Ferley, an economist at Royal Bank of Canada. Chicago Board of Trade corn futures fell 5 cents a bushel, reflecting concerns that the pact was under real threat.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to pull out from the 23-year-old trade pact if he is unable to renegotiate it with better terms for America. He has long accused Mexico of destroying U.S. jobs. The United States went from running a small trade surplus with Mexico in the early 1990s to a $63 billion deficit in 2016.
Trump has stopped short of a formal threat to kill NAFTA so far, but legal experts say he likely has the authority as president to give a 60-day notice that America is exiting the pact. It was under an executive order signed by Trump on Jan. 23 that the United States pulled out of the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.Details about the draft order on NAFTA were not immediately available.
Trump has faced some setbacks since he took office in January, including a move by courts to block parts of his orders to limit immigration. Withdrawing from NAFTA would enable him to say he delivered on one of his key campaign promises, but it could also hurt him in states that voted for him in the election.
“Mr. President, America’s corn farmers helped elect you,” the National Corn Growers Association said in a statement. “Withdrawing from NAFTA would be disastrous for American agriculture.”
The first administration source told Reuters that there were diverging opinions within the U.S. government about how to proceed and it was possible that Trump could sign the executive order before the 100-day mark of his presidency.The source noted that the administration wanted to tread carefully.
“There is talk about what steps we can take to start the process of renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA,” this source said. Mexico had expected to start NAFTA renegotiations in August but the possible executive order could add urgency to the timeline.
The Mexican government had no comment on the draft order. The country’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that Mexico would walk away from the negotiating table rather than accept a bad deal.
Trump recently ramped up his criticism of Canada and this week ordered 20 percent tariffs on imports of Canadian softwood lumber, setting a tense tone as the three countries prepared to renegotiate the pact. Canada said it was ready to come to talks on renewing NAFTA at any time.
“At this moment NAFTA negotiations have not started. Canada is ready to come to the table at any time,” said Alex Lawrence, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.