WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump's sudden threat to blow up NAFTA less than a week into its renegotiation isn't drawing much of a response from the other North American countries, which are downplaying his remarks.
Canada and Mexico say it's a predictable event in the course of a trade negotiation.
"As we said last week, trade negotiations often have moments of heated rhetoric," said Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. "Our priorities remain the same and we will continue to work hard to modernize NAFTA, supporting millions of middle class jobs."
"Canada's economic ties with the United States are key to middle-class jobs and growth on both sides of the border. Nine million American jobs depend on trade and investment with Canada."
Trump told a partisan crowd at a rally in Arizona on Tuesday night that he doubts a deal is possible.
"Personally, I don't think we can make a deal," Trump told a campaign-style rally in Arizona on Tuesday night. "Because we have been so badly taken advantage of. They have made such great deals _ both of the countries, but in particular Mexico _ that I don't think we can make a deal.
"So I think we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point."
While he's made the threat numerous times, this is the first time he's done it since Canada, the U.S. and Mexico began talks last week.
Freeland was unavailable to comment today, but she as good as predicted it during her appearance before a House of Commons committee last week when she said there likely would be "dramatic moments ahead."
A Foreign Affairs official speaking on background said Trump's threat to cancel NAFTA came earlier than expected, but it was expected.
"We knew it was very likely the president would play this card," he said. "We're not going to get rattled by this."
He said this was why the Canadian government has been working at developing relationships with others in the NAFTA circle in the United States including congressional representatives and state government leaders.
The Mexican foreign minister described Trump's threat as an obvious leverage play: "No surprise: we're in a negotiation," Luis Videgaray tweeted in response to Trump. "Mexico will remain at the table with calmness, firmness and in the national interest."
The president's threat itself is no surprise. A common topic of hallway chatter at last week's first round of talks last week was just when he might deploy that withdrawal threat, which many view as his principal source of negotiating leverage.
Insiders say they expect him to keep making these threats.
It's his main source of power to force the other countries to reach an agreement. One well-connected Washington lobbyist at last week's talks said he was convinced the threat was coming: "Almost 100 per cent."
Robery Holleyman, former deputy trade czar under Barack Obama, said it's an obvious move and he thinks the president made it too early. In an interview several weeks ago, Holleyman said it was a serious tactical error when Trump made the threat in April.
He said Canada and Mexico gained valuable insight that will render Trump's threats less powerful at the negotiating table. In April, the U.S. Congress pushed back against him, the business community fumed and his own cabinet members pleaded against it.
"It was, at a minimum, terrible timing," said Holleyman.
"You do that at the 11th hour in the negotiation _ that episode in April underscored the complexity of ending NAFTA."