The new trilateral trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico provides a validation of sorts for the bare-knuckle negotiating strategy that has won President Donald Trump so many critics.
As he sought to fulfill a key campaign promise to tear up multiple trade deals in which the U.S. participated, Trump used an approach derided as dangerous, protectionist brinkmanship that risked making the nation a pariah among not just traditional foes like China but also allies like Canada and the European Union.
With a new deal, though, comes a chance at bragging rights for an approach not seen from the White House in many administrations.
"This is another substantive win for the president," said Chris Garcia, former deputy director of the Commerce Department under Trump and now CEO of Vicar Financial. "This could be a real legacy piece for the president if all goes as planned. If anything can be taken away from the Trump presidency, it's really a shifting of the supply chain back to the North American continent and specifically to the United States."
Indeed, there are some key components that reorient commerce and provide some key protections the White House had sought.
Taken as whole, though, the new pact, called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, looks a lot like the old North American Free Trade Agreement.
What's different are the optics, which show a president willing to get tough on global trading partners despite what the critics say and the risks such a strategy pose.
Prior administrations "weren't able to do it the diplomatic way, the old-school way," Garcia said. Trump "came in thinking outside the box. Some people thought he was a madman for wanting to slap tariffs on imports and threatening to increase tariffs progressively. I think those on the inside knew this was a means to an end. You've got to inflict real fear in the opposite party to get some substantive concessions, or they don't take it seriously."
In doing so, Trump scored political points with two key constituencies: farmers, who had been hurt by soybean duties and the dairy impasse with Canada, and union members, particularly those in the auto industries.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said the organization welcomed the "deal to modernize NAFTA" and wanted to "commend the negotiators for their commitment to finding a path forward that includes the U.S., Mexico and Canada."