The Trump administration is weighing an executive order that could yank the US out of NAFTA and cause a potentially earth-rattling upheaval in trade relations across North America.
Reports on the executive order have varied considerably in tone and substance. The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is "debating" a "formal threat" to withdraw from the free trade agreement. According to Politico, President Trump is "considering" an executive order "on withdrawing," which has been submitted for final stages of review and could emerge next week. And the New York Times has said an order that would actually trigger withdrawal is "likely" to be signed. All of the reports are based on leaks from unnamed administration officials.
So can the US really just abandon NAFTA, the free trade pact that has woven together the US, Mexican, and Canadian economies for 23 years? Yes. The executive order would presumably trigger withdrawal by invoking Article 2205 of the treaty, which lays out that one of the three countries "may withdraw from this Agreement six months after it provides written notice of withdrawal to the other Parties."
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Can Trump do this alone without Congress, which is already pushing back against the idea of withdrawal? That's not so obvious.
"It's unclear if you need Congress," Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told me. "Part of the issue is we've never done something like this before; we've not gone through the legal i's that need to be dotted and t's that need to be crossed."
"The White House is supposed to consult with Congress [about free trade accords] at a minimum, but what does that mean? That's up for interpretation," he added.