Photo: AFP/Mandel Ngan
Photo: AFP/Mandel Ngan

After a leak by Canadian media of comments he made in a Bloomberg interview last Thursday, US President Donald Trump doubled down on the sentiments that were revealed, adding new obstacles to already fraught talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Talking on Thursday after getting his interviewers to agree that the comments were off the record because they would be “so insulting” to the Canadians that they would walk away from talks, Trump said any deal would be “totally on our terms.”

The conversation was then leaked to and published by the Toronto Star, which had no obligation to honor Bloomberg’s agreement. In an interview on Sunday, Bloomberg reporter Margaret Talev assured that her news organization had not leaked the comments, and that, as she understood it, Bloomberg and the White House were the two places that had transcripts of the interview.

On Saturday, Trump made no attempt to walk back the comments, writing on Twitter that “there is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal.” The Trump administration has already successfully agreed to a preliminary agreement on a renegotiated NAFTA with the trade pact’s other member, Mexico.

Trump also made a point to share a Breitbart article with the celebratory headline: “No deal! Trade talks with Canada conclude for the week with no agreement.”

For the president himself, despite the fact that economists and trade experts say scrapping NAFTA completely would have far-reaching and long-term negative impact on the US economy, the short-term political calculus might favor sabotaging the talks with Canada. Getting rid of NAFTA was, after all, one of Trump’s signature campaign promises, and it helped him win over Democratic blue-collar voters in swing states across the Midwest.

Absent legislation to block such a move from Congress, the Republican leadership of which is loath to challenge its party’s president on any policy, withdrawing from NAFTA is one of few campaign pledges for which the president doesn’t need support from lawmakers.

Judging from his tweets, and despite what Canadian officials have described as an earnest effort on the part of US trade negotiators to make a deal, it appears Trump is leaning toward making good on the promise.

That being said, the White House’s decision to extend a self-imposed deadline on Friday and continue talks this week suggests that Trump’s comments may also be another example of his trademark brinkmanship.

Negotiations, led by Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrysta Freeland and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, will resume on Wednesday.

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