THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Trump team drops hints NAFTA end not imminent

Trump looks at renegotiation, not cancellation of NAFTA

Members of the Trump administration have dropped several hints in recent days that withdrawing from NAFTA is not in their current plans — and the latest such example came Thursday.

A congressional gathering heard Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin express some optimism about getting a deal. He based that on what he said were weekly meetings with U.S. trade czar Robert Lighthizer.

“I’m cautiously hopeful that … (he) will be renegotiating this deal,” Mnuchin told the House of Representatives’ budget committee.

“It is a major priority of ours to renegotiate the deal.”

RELATED: NAFTA survives key round: U.S. grumbles

He refused to even discuss the possibility of U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA when asked to do so. Republican lawmaker Darin LaHood pressed Mnuchin to analyze the possible consequences of withdrawal, something the Illinois congressman said would be a mistake.

”I would hate to see us shoot ourselves in the foot by withdrawing from NAFTA,” LaHood said.

”I look at those negotiations, and where we’re headed, that causes me a lot of concern.”

Again, Mnuchin reaffirmed his view that cancellation is not imminent: ”I don’t want to go through the consequences — because, again, that’s not our first priority. Our priority is to renegotiate the deal,” said the treasury secretary.

It’s the third such hint from a prominent member of the administration in recent days.

In a public meeting this week, Lighthizer said progress is being made in the renegotiation. He described the anxiety about a U.S. withdrawal as something in the past tense.

RELATED: Pipeline opponents vocal at Justin Trudeau town hall in Nanaimo

”There was a lot of anxiety at one point as to whether we would be in a position where we would have to withdraw in order to get a good agreement,” Lighthizer said, with President Donald Trump looking on.

”I think we’re making progress on NAFTA … I think we’re making real headway — in particular with respect to the Mexicans.”

Lighthizer has stated his view that negotiations have been harder with Canada. His relations with Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland have been bumpier, although a spokesman for the minister described their meeting Wednesday as “cordial and constructive.”

And in a closing news conference at the last round, Lighthizer described his Canadian and Mexican counterparts as friends.

Another Trump cabinet member also expressed optimism about NAFTA a few days ago. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said he expects a NAFTA deal by year’s end.

Extending the talks into 2018 would have some drawbacks: Both Scotiabank and the Bank of Canada say uncertainty over the investment situation would shave about one-fifth of one per cent from Canada’s economy by next year.

RELATED: Trudeau government to table budget Feb. 27 as Canada faces uncertainty

This week also provided examples of the uncertainty in Canada-U.S. trade.

The U.S. opened an investigation into possible punitive duties on certain types of Canadian pipes — following similar moves on lumber, paper, and a thwarted effort to slap duties on Bombardier airplanes.

In addition, Trump made cryptic comments about an import tax — later played down by the White House. He also appeared to nod in agreement during a meeting as a Democrat called for Buy American provisions to be added to a major infrastructure bill.

Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Freeland did not meet Lighthizer during her most recent visit to Washington.

Just Posted

VIDEO: This is what buying legal pot in B.C. looks like

Take a look inside B.C.’s first and only legal pot shop located in Kamloops

VIDEO: Fire crew mopping up workshop fire near Golden Ears Bridge

Structure fire at 208 and 102B sending plumes of black smoke into air above Walnut Grove

Two Giants picked to play against Russia

Two of Langley’s junior hockey players will be part of the six-game Canada Russia Series next month.

VIDEO: Tributes for the man known as the “Mormon Giant”

Langley champion professional wrestler passes away

Two Langley mayoral campaigns endorsed by anti-SOGI groups

Jack Froese unsure why he’s been singled out; SOGI not a municipal issue, says Peter Fassbender

Mellow opening to B.C.’s only legal pot shop

About five people lined up early for the opening of the BC Cannabis Store in Kamloops.

Jagmeet Singh says marijuana pardons are not enough

Trudeau government will streamline pardon process for Canadians convicted of simple possession of marijuana in the past

BC Ferries begins taking debit in two-month pilot project

Company is giving customers option to use Interac on two-month trial on select vessels

Caregivers banned from smoking, growing cannabis around children-in-care: MCFD

Ministry has limited cannabis use for caregivers, stating it may “pose a risk to children and youth.”

Cheaper strains sell out within minutes on online BC Cannabis Store

Province says new strains will become available in the coming months

Only 40% of B.C. car dealerships have electric cars available: report

Researchers found buyers frustrated at the lack of options

VIDEO: Millionaire Lottery returns to give back and win big

Since 1996, Millionaire Lottery has raised $52 million for the VGH+UBC Hospital Foundation

Test case challenges a politician’s right to block people from Twitter account

3 people say Watson infringed their constitutional right to freedom of expression by blocking them

Most Read