North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Chuck Grassley talks trade

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

Powerful Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who as Finance Committee chairman will oversee Trump's trade agenda, sat down with Axios on Friday to discuss this fraught moment in international trade.

Behind the scenes: Trump's principal trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer had just left Grassley's office as we entered, a Grassley aide told us, and we began the trade discussion by asking Grassley what he learned from that conversation with Lighthizer. Grassley said they discussed the ongoing China negotiations, the early moves toward a U.S.-Japan bilateral trade deal, and the USMCA (Trump's re-negotiated NAFTA, which Congress has yet to approve).

Trump channels Theresa May's Brexit plan for NAFTA 2.0

Illustration of scissors snipping a man with a parachute
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The head of state wants to renegotiate a major free-trade agreement, and there is a deal on the table that has been agreed to by all parties. Now all that's needed is for domestic lawmakers to approve the deal. There are signs they might not be willing to do so. In order to concentrate the legislators' minds, the leader exits the old agreement, leaving a stark choice: Either accept the new one, or embrace the chaos of a no-deal exit.

The big picture: Theresa May pulled this move when she triggered Article 50 in March 2017, raising the specter of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit should Parliament not agree to a deal by March 29, 2019. Now, Donald Trump is thinking along similar lines for NAFTA, with the support of Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.

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