Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said this week that much of the “anxiety” about trade policy under the Trump administration “will go away” if the U.S. can successfully renegotiate NAFTA “without a trade war … [or] reprisals.” President Trump recently agreed to renegotiate the longstanding trade agreement with Canada and Mexico but said he reserved the right to withdraw from it if the U.S. is “unable to make a fair deal.”

In an interview with Yahoo Finance Ross characterized NAFTA as “terrible,” “obsolete,” and “not evenly balanced.” He said NAFTA includes “a whole lot of things that you would never put in a present agreement” and asserted that both Republicans and Democrats recognize that “it needs to be updated.” However, he downplayed the negotiating objectives laid out in a draft notification to Congress that was leaked to the press, which he said was just one of several alternatives that have been discussed by administration officials and was “blown up by the media.”

Ross also signaled that the U.S. intends to reshape NAFTA into separate bilateral agreements with Canada and Mexico “that match and are symmetrical.” He explained that multilateral agreements “take too long” to negotiate, which fosters a propensity to settle for “any deal” instead of the best deal. He also acknowledged that there are “some good features” in the current agreement and indicated an interest in not unduly upsetting existing NAFTA supply chains.

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