Making America Great Again with Dairy Concessions

Yesterday, Donald Trump spent the day, including another ludicrous press conference, crowing about his "historic" trade deal that replaced NAFTA, which was basically just NAFTA plus some renegotiations on dairy trade.

It's a truly remarkable encapsulation of Trump's presidency: He invented a crisis, centered it within a network of lies, screamed endlessly about it, made impossible promises to his base, threw international agreements into chaos, risked our global alliances, struck a deal that was barely significant except that it's worse, rebranded the policy, then bragged that it was the greatest thing that's ever happened.

Rinse and repeat.

At the Washington Post, Catherine Rampell strikes precisely the right tone in her coverage of this garbage:
Well, that was unnecessarily painful.

After spending a year and a half alienating our friends, punishing our farmers and manufacturers with devastating tariffs and counter-tariffs, and fracturing the hard-won alliance we had built to isolate and pressure China, we finally got a new trade deal — and a "new" trade strategy.

Yet somehow, they look an awful lot like the old ones.

On Sunday evening, news broke that Canada agreed to the terms of a renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. Not merely renegotiated: rebranded! What was once the easily pronounceable "NAFTA" will hereafter be the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or "USMCA."

Why the name change was needed is a little unclear. Our marketer in chief clearly loves rebranding things, and USMCA, while it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does have the virtue of literally putting America first.

...So, you know, whoop de doo.

There are some new protectionist measures, such as complicated new requirements for auto rules of origin, which could potentially backfire. That is, they may end up being so costly to adhere to that they'll encourage manufacturers to move more of their operations and jobs outside of North America.

Other stuff, such as a "sunset" provision requiring members to regularly reaffirm their desire to continue the three-party deal, is probably also not an improvement. There are better ways to encourage ongoing modernization of the deal that would involve less policy uncertainty for businesses. But, again, this section is not as bad as many businesses and trade experts feared.

Trump also won some modest concessions in tiny industries he's weirdly obsessed with, such as Canadian dairy. He has conveniently played down the concessions he made in exchange: In return for greater American access to the Canadian dairy, poultry, and egg markets, we gave Canada greater access to U.S. markets for dairy, peanuts, processed peanut products, sugar, and sugar-containing products.

But for the most part, despite Trump's assertion that "it's not NAFTA redone, it's a brand-new deal," the president mostly kept NAFTA intact.
Whoop de doo is right.

But all Trump cares about is that he got his headlines after boasting that the deal was "historic." And his cult of deplorables will cheer for his "historic" deal-making that really stuck it to those Canadians and Mexicans, because that's the talking point they've been given and that's good enough for them.

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