Does President Trump have authority to withdraw from NAFTA?

On Dec. 1, 2018, President Trump told reporters that he intended to notify Canada and Mexico of his intention to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in six months. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report on March 5, 2019, that examines the President’s authority to unilaterally withdraw the United States from NAFTA without action from the U.S. Congress. The answer seems to be–it depends.

Specifically, the CRS report focuses on three questions: 1) whether, under international law, the President may terminate U.S. international obligations under NAFTA (likely yes); 2) whether, under domestic law, the President may terminate U.S. international obligations under NAFTA (it’s unclear); and 3) whether the NAFTA Implementation Act, the legislation that actually implemented the FTA, would remain in effect if the President terminated U.S. international obligations under NAFTA (likely yes).

President Trump originally threatened to withdraw from NAFTA as a way to pressure Congress to act on the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Recently, the Administration has indicated there are no immediate plans to back out of the existing trade agreement. Regardless, it’s good to understand the possible courses of action.

For additional information, check out the full CRS report here.

Author Megan Provost is Vice President for Policy and Programs at Farm Foundation. She previously worked at Dow AgroSciences, for a U.S. Senator, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and at American Farm Bureau Federation. She holds a masters degree in agricultural economics and a juris doctorate.

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