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Trump to reveal NAFTA plan

After campaigning and complaining about NAFTA for two years, Donald Trump is poised to release a list as early as Monday revealing how he wants to change the deal.

American law requires that the administration publish a list of its objectives entering trade negotiations. The reason this could happen any day is because the administration hopes to start negotiations around Aug. 16 and the law requires this list be posted online 30 days in advance.

Expect the Canadian government to say little in response to the list.

"I can't imagine that we would start negotiating before the negotiations actually start," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday. "We're going to be responsible about this, to be thoughtful and responsible in how we engage the administration."

That tight-lipped approach stems from the Canadian government's overall strategy: Make the Americans lay out their cards first, given that they asked for these negotiations and in the parlance of trade talks are the "demandeur."

The U.S. has signalled wildly conflicting approaches.

Trump keeps threatening to rip up the trade agreement in the absence of a major renegotiation. His vice-president just delivered a speech exuding collegiality and promising a new NAFTA that would be a "win-win-win."

The signals to Congress have been equally contradictory.

In a leaked draft of a letter to lawmakers, the administration showed at a desire to play hardball and seek changes that would be deemed non-starters by the other countries. It later released a bare-bones, modest version of that letter.

It was with this letter that the Trump administration formally declared its intention to enter trade negotiations with Canada and Mexico. Those mixed messages are due in part to philosophical differences within Trump's team about how aggressive to get on trade.

A veteran of U.S. trade negotiations suggests this upcoming notice will fall somewhere between the two versions of those letters to lawmakers: more detailed than the final version, less expansive than the draft.

"It will be more specific but I think still broad-brush bullet points on what they want to accomplish," said Welles Orr, a senior U.S. trade official under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

"So no surprises. I don't expect we're going to see anything that pops out as 'Oh, wow, we didn't see this coming.' So I think it'll be kind of perfunctory."



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