How a Call from President Trump's Son-in-Law Started a Scramble on NAFTA

By Panetta, Alexander | The Canadian Press, May 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

How a Call from President Trump's Son-in-Law Started a Scramble on NAFTA


Panetta, Alexander, The Canadian Press


The Kushner phone call on NAFTA

--

WASHINGTON - A phone call from U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law set off a frantic scramble ending in sighs of relief across three national capitals that the North American Free Trade Agreement would survive.

Jared Kushner called around supper time.

It happened on an intrigue-filled day last month after different news reports said Trump was seriously thinking of invoking Article 2205 of NAFTA, which would be the first step in cancelling the quarter-century-old deal.

There are contrasting accounts of what really happened April 26.

One version suggests Trump was simply bluffing about blowing up NAFTA. Another describes it as a White House power-struggle that played out in public. For his part, Trump insists he really came close to withdrawing from the deal.

What dissuaded him, Trump says, were evening phone calls from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Enrique Pena Nieto.

''Two people that I like very much, the president of Mexico, prime minister of Canada, they called up, they said, can we negotiate? I said, yes, we can renegotiate,'' Trump told a rally in Pennsylvania several days later.

''So we'll start a renegotiation.''

He didn't delve into the details. But here's what happened.

Washington was abuzz over those reports hinting at the possible demise of NAFTA. Some Trump administration members urged him not to proceed, warning of the economic bedlam such a move would cause. At the Canadian embassy in Washington, some were heartened by the intensity of the reaction.

The business community and lawmakers had, for the most part, quietly abided Trump's trade-skeptical campaign talk for over a year but were suddenly springing to action, flooding contacts with phone calls and pleas not to touch NAFTA.

Then came the call from Kushner.

A pair of sources described the chain of events. At about 6 p.m., the senior White House aide contacted a counterpart in Ottawa. The president's son-in-law and adviser called PMO chief of staff Katie Telford, and said: Trump has a free moment, right now, to speak about NAFTA.

He suggested Trudeau might want to call the White House.

Telford veered to a stop. She happened to be in a carpool, commuting with her colleague Gerald Butts. The senior officials pulled over to the side of the road in Tunney's Pasture, an industrial-park-like federal area in west-end Ottawa.

They got in touch with Trudeau, and the prime minister contacted Trump. The prime minister stressed the economic disruption that would be caused in people's lives, should the deal be suddenly jettisoned. Trump also spoke to Pena Nieto and, a few hours later, the White House issued a statement: NAFTA was saved, for now, and would be renegotiated -- not terminated. …

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