Trump meets auto executives as NAFTA talks face deadline

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with carmakers in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2018
AFP

Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump convened the world’s most important auto executives at the White House Friday to press for increased domestic production, while again heaping criticism on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Negotiators are currently working to rewrite the 24-year-old trade pact in which the auto industry features prominently, but the US, Canada and Mexico have not yet bridged their differences on criteria for duty-free car imports.

“NAFTA has been a horrible, horrible disaster for this country. And we’ll see if we can make it reasonable,” Trump said at the start of the meeting. 

He gave no hints on whether a deal could be struck by a key deadline next week, but the Canadian and Mexican trade ministers signaled that they are focused on the content, not the time pressures.

Canada Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has been in Washington all week for meetings with Mexico Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, told reporters: “The negotiations will take as long as it takes to get a good deal.”

The talks are hung up on Washington’s demands to increase the US-made components in vehicles that receive duty-free status in NAFTA, and the clock is running out.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would need a written agreement by May 17 — next Thursday — in order for Congress to approve a revamped trade pact this year, while Republicans still control the legislature — something that could change in the November midterm elections.

Guajardo said trade officials will continue the discussions and the ministers will be on call to continue talks next week, but cautioned that “we’re not going to sacrifice the quality for the pressure of time.”

– Emissions rules –

Trump said one purpose of the meeting with auto industry officials was to focus on “how to build more cars in the United States.”

“We have a great capacity for building. We’re importing a lot of cars, and we want a lot of those cars to be made in the United States,” he said.

The leaders of Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, as well as top executives from BMW, Mercedes, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen attended the meeting.

The president singled out Fiat Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne for praise due to the company’s plans to move production of its popular Dodge Ram truck back to the US from Mexico.

“Right now, he’s my favorite man in the room,” Trump said. “It’s a big deal. Leaving Mexico; going to Michigan. That was very well received. I appreciate it. Thank you.”

FCA announced in January its plan to invest $1 billion in a Michigan assembly plant and create 2,500 jobs.

Trump also wanted to discuss plans to roll back fuel economy standards imposed at the very end of Barack Obama’s administration in January 2017. 

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards would require carmakers to reach an average of 54.5 miles per gallon (23 kilometers per liter) across all models they produce by 2025, in an effort to significantly reduce oil consumption and the greenhouse gases linked to climate change.

Automakers have said they support changes to the rules, and prefer a single national standard. California has a stricter standard than other states.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, who has pushed to roll back the tougher rules, also attended the White House meeting.

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