The Trump administration rejected criticism Friday from business groups over the way it is conducting the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying the opponents of the administration's objectives are part of the Washington establishment it is trying to uproot.
"The president's objectives with the NAFTA renegotiation are to create great jobs for Americans and reduce an unconscionable trade deficit. The president has been clear that NAFTA has been a disaster for many Americans, and achieving his objectives requires substantial change. These changes of course will be opposed by entrenched Washington lobbyists and trade associations. We have always understood that draining the swamp would be controversial in Washington," said Emily Davis, spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
The comments followed a press conference Friday by the Chamber of Commerce, the nation's top business lobbying organization, in which it warned that the talks to renegotiate the 1993 trade deal among the U.S., Canada and Mexico were at a dangerous crossroads. The fourth round of the talks begin in Washington next week.
"Today we are increasingly concerned with the state of play with the negotiations," John Murphy, the chamber's senior vice president for international policy, told reporters. He said the administration's continued pursuit of an expiration date for NAFTA and its push to favor U.S. companies for government contracts, over those from Canada and Mexico, was alarming businesses.
"The vast majority of business groups oppose these provisions emphatically," Murphy said, adding that Canada and Mexico, the other countries in the deal, were not inclined to support them either. "The concern is that leading with these proposals could lead to a chaotic breakdown in the talks."
That could lead the Trump administration to pull out of the deal entirely, he warned. President Trump has repeatedly made that threat in the past if the administration does not get what it wants out of the talks. "There is an old adage in negotiations: Never take a hostage you wouldn't shoot," Murphy said. He urged the administration to pull back and "recalibrate" on the talks.