Ex-UN ambassador Bill Richardson to President Trump: 'Make a deal on NAFTA now'

  • U.S. President Donald Trump should make a deal on the North American Free Trade Agreement now, while the "vibe" is good with Mexico's president-elect, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told CNBC on Friday.
  • Trump has been "restrained" and "gracious" since Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won a landslide victory in Mexico's presidential election, which makes for a good time to strike a deal.
  • "So make a deal now on what is called a skinny NAFTA. It's good for our country, good for Mexico, good for Canada. That would be my advice," Richardson said.

U.S. President Donald Trump should make a deal on the North American Free Trade Agreement now, while the "vibe" is good with Mexico's president-elect, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson told CNBC on Friday.

"I think if President Trump is smart, he should try to make a deal on NAFTA now — a skinny NAFTA," said Richardson, who also was governor of New Mexico.

Trump has been "restrained" and "gracious" since Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won a landslide victory in Mexico's presidential election, Richardson said. That makes for the perfect time to strike a deal and repair the U.S.-Mexico relationship, which Richardson says has been "in tatters" for the past six years.

"I think Lopez Obrador is going to say, 'You know, I can deal with President Trump.' They're both populist, they talk to the base," Richardson said on "Power Lunch."

Bill Richardson
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Bill Richardson

Richardson also warned that Trump should "stop talking about the wall and immigration," and continue to keep those issues separate from trade negotiations.

He recommended Trump keep a potential deal "skinny," which means it wouldn't need approval from the U.S. and Mexican congresses to pass.

"Concessions have been made on all sides," Richardson said. "But don't make it broad so that you have to go to the Mexican Congress, the U.S. Congress."

"So make a deal now on what is called a skinny NAFTA. It's good for our country, good for Mexico, good for Canada. That would be my advice," Richardson said.

Trump has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from NAFTA amid months of contentious negotiation with neighbors Mexico and Canada. Mexico and the U.S. agreed last week to step up talks on revamping NAFTA in hopes of reaching a deal on major issues this month. Lopez Obrador said Tuesday that he expected there would be an agreement in the coming days.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

— Reuters contributed to this report.