|Larry Kudlow - Speaking at CPAC 2015|
In general though, the US media seems to be at a loss to understand why President Trump is pushing ahead with this agenda, and is predicting doom and gloom with the potential for trade wars to emerge, rolling back the advances made towards a fully globalized trading system. But they do not seem to understand what is at stake here, and nor do they seem to understand the economics surrounding globalization and how financial markets are to a certain extent tied to the fate of globalization over the next month or so. The way I tended to view the President's stance on tariffs was that it was mostly a case of "bluster" to prompt other countries to yield on their trade positions so as to obviate the need to implement tariffs. But recent events have proved that position to be wrong - President Trump is indeed willing to bypass the WTO, and implement tariffs, particularly on China (there is a good article on the growing irrelevance of the WTO from the FT here)
But the President's position on NAFTA is a little different. President Trump was partially elected on his campaign promise to either repeal or renegotiate NAFTA, and so far the re-negotiation has been hung up on various of the US demands, most notably: i) rules of origin for autos - 85% NAFTA and 50% US for those autos sold in the US; ii) scrapping of the investor-state system, where investors from another NAFTA country can sue the government of that country if they are treated differently from how they would be treated in their own country; iii) scrapping of the trade dispute settlement mechanism whereby a panel of experts decides which country wins a particular trade dispute case; iv) an end to Canada's agricultural supply management system; v) the introduction of a sunset clause whereby all 3 countries have to renew NAFTA every 5 years.
So what is likely to happen here and what are the potential "known unknowns" here? First, how far is President Trump likely to want to compromise to save NAFTA. Well so far the negotiations have been making slow progress, but as one might imagine, some of the US demands are proving difficult for the other NAFTA countries to accept and/or compromise around. The investor-state system has been updated, and as the US wants it scrapped, Canada and Mexico have decided to just make it apply to them, effectively giving the US an opt out from the system. Recent news from the talks in Mexico City appear to show that the US has now dropped all it's demands on auto content (see here), which was also a major sticking point. While that seems like a reasonable compromise, there are still other issues like the trade dispute mechanism and the sunset clause, where it is hard to see how the different parties can come together in a deal, despite what is at stake.
here), but on the other hand Mexico is seemingly the biggest problem as far as President Trump is concerned, and largely because of the trade deficit that the U.S. runs with Mexico . Even just this morning on his way to Church, the President stopped by reporters to announce that as well as there being no DACA deal that he was still considering pulling out of NAFTA (see here) if border security did not improve. So this is clearly a huge "known unknown", and if President Trump appears not to be able to get his cherished wall on the Mexican border by a deal with the Democrats on DACA, then this appears to be the President's next best hope - allowing Mexico to remain in NAFTA, only if it pays (in part or wholly) for the new border wall. It also perhaps is a signal that the President was not happy with the concession that his negotiators made in regard to the trade in autos.
Texas is very much involved now in trying to save NAFTA - as Canada's Financial Post pointed out in an article this week (see here), but clearly the President is not keen to compromise on NAFTA without there being some quid pro quo in the case of Mexico.
But what is at stake is probably bigger than any talk of tariffs with China, as although China is a large trading partner, the embedded nature of the trading relationships with both Mexico are far reaching. The actual size of the trading relationship with both Canada and Mexico can be seen in the figure above, which shows the flows of trade in and out of the country for 2016, Now of course the trade relationship with Canada is unlikely to be threatened, as President Trump will likely revert to what was known previously as CUFTA (the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement), but for US States along the border with Mexico the implications are much more serious if Mexico is prohibited from continuing in NAFTA. The figure below shows the exports by State to Mexico and it is clear that although all the border States would be hit by any new trade restrictions introduced between the US and Mexico, it is Texas that would suffer by far the most of any State.
So what are the possible outcomes here?
i) First the worst scenario, with a complete withdrawal from NAFTA. No special trade relations with either Mexico or Canada. This is now extremely unlikely, but the effects on the North American markets would definitely be highly negative if it were to occur.
ii) Second, a more likely scenario would be a withdrawal from NAFTA while at the same time an invitation to Canada to continue negotiating on a CUFTA deal. This I think is highly likely if no concessions are made by Mexico regarding border security, and in particular, some funding for the wall. Clearly Mexican markets would take a big hit if this were to occur, and the Texan economy in particular could potentially be badly hit. In the U.S., the auto sector and the energy sector would be particularly vulnerable.
iii) Third, another possible scenario which has just appeared due to the President's retreat from doing a DACA deal with Democrats, that of the NAFTA being successfully concluded due to a side deal that the President does with the Mexicans such that they partially agree to some unspecified payments so that the President gets a partial victory. Although unlikely, due to Mexican opposition to any acquiescence on the wall, it is possible and would likely have no effect on the U.S. markets but would see a relief rally in Canadian and Mexican stockmarkets.
iv) Fourth, a successful conclusion to NAFTA without any side agreement, but with some of President Trump's signature demands embedded into the agreement, notably reformed dispute settlement mechanism and a sunset clause on the agreement, subject to a review and further revisions at some point in the future. A relief rally in all 3 participant countries would likely occur on such news.
If I were forced to choose, I would say that outcome ii) and iv) are most likely, but in fact I think for electoral reasons I think President Trump's instincts will be to withdraw from NAFTA, unless certain key concessions are won. .