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Trump has no interest in NAFTA concessions, says top official

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

A top Trump administration official made the US pro-trade community despair — again. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross declared that President Trump had no interest in giving a single meaningful concession in the NAFTA talks with Canada and Mexico.

"We're asking two countries to give up some privileges that they have enjoyed for 22 years," Ross told CNBC's Becky Quick on Wednesday. "And we are not in a position to offer anything in return."

Why this may not matter: Ross could be simply bluffing.

Why this may matter a lot: It could be real — that is, Ross could be accurately reflecting Trump's view of the NAFTA talks. So far, the Trump administration has matched its hardline and inflexible public rhetoric with completely inflexible negotiations behind the scenes with the Canadians and Mexicans. Sources who've spoken to Robert Lighthizer say Trump's top trade negotiator is unyielding: Trump wants what Trump wants. And there's no room for compromise.

Bottom line: The NAFTA talks are frozen and the deal's future looks very dicey. Or as one former top trade official on Capitol Hill put it to me after the Ross interview: "No wonder the negotiations aren't going well. They're not actually negotiations."

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