Baker Institute expert: NAFTA announcement not ‘a true breakthrough’


David Ruth

Jeff Falk

Baker Institute expert: NAFTA announcement not ‘a true breakthrough’

HOUSTON – (Aug. 27, 2018) – President Donald Trump announced today that the United States has reached agreement with Mexico on a new trade deal that he declared will not be called NAFTA — a name he said has bad connotations. The announcement seems, at its core, to be a last-minute sprint to claim a victory that may not yet be within reach, according to an expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Credit: University

Tony Payan, the Françoise and Edward Djerejian Fellow for Mexico Studies at the Baker Institute and director of the institute’s Mexico Center, is available to discuss the agreement and its implications with the news media.

“The anticipated agreement between Mexico and the United States appears to represent a breakthrough on NAFTA renegotiations,” Payan said. “The reality, however, is more humbling. Several issues are forcing the administrations of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Trump toward that announcement this week.”

First, Trump wants to change the discourse on his administration’s accomplishments, Payan said. “The recent legal troubles of his team and his inability to claim victory on any of the diplomatic and commercial fronts he has opened, both of which loom larger in light of the November midterm elections, are making him to want to announce a deal as quickly as he can,” Payan said.

Second, in Mexico, Peña Nieto and his team are anxious to cinch an agreement with the U.S. in advance of President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration taking office Dec. 1, Payan said. “They understand that things in Mexico are about to get more complicated and they, too, are running against the clock,” Payan said. “That is because the new Mexican Congress, dominated by the MORENA party (López Obrador’s party), will take office this weekend. Whatever agreement is reached will have to face a Mexican Congress with a much more nationalistic face. Mr. López Obrador, the president-elect, has also made contradictory announcements on the acceptable new features of NAFTA, which shows that there is so far no consensus within his own party on what NAFTA should be. Ideally, he would like Mr. Peña, the outgoing president, to resolve this issue instead of leaving it to him to disentangle. But as of next week, it is already a MORENA issue and they appear uncertain as to what they want on NAFTA.”

Third, even if there is an agreement between Mexico and the United States, Canada has yet to review the details of any binational agreement and object where it’s interests are not served, Payan said. In this regard, the announcement may be premature, he said.

“In general, it is too early to label this announcement a true breakthrough on NAFTA,” Payan said. “And it is probably unwise to negotiate such an important accord against the clock, with only minutes left on it. It is best to allow the next few weeks and months to pass, observe the electoral will of both Mexicans (in the new Congress) and Americans (in the November elections), then go back to the negotiating table with a clearer mind and less pressure. Rushing can only result in a bad NAFTA, which all the parties have said they do not want.”


For more information or to schedule an interview with Payan, contact Jeff Falk, associate director of national media relations at Rice, at or 713-348-6775. The Baker Institute has a radio and television studio available for media.

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Payan on Twitter: @PayanTony

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Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks among the top three university-affiliated think tanks in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.