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How Trump’s Son-in-Law Helped Salvage the North American Trade Zone

FILE PHOTO: White House aides look on as Trump announces deal on NAFTA at the White House in Washington
Reuters
• October 3, 2018 2:29 pm

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OTTAWA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Robert Lighthizer was the public face of arduous, year-long talks to rework NAFTA, but as he savored a successful conclusion in the White House Rose Garden on Monday, the U.S. trade representative singled out another man as the deal’s architect.
"I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, this agreement would not have happened if it wasn’t for Jared," Lighthizer told reporters.

The 70-year-old veteran negotiator was referring to Jared Kushner, more than 30 years his junior and Donald Trump’s son-in-law, whom the president had asked to help out on trade early in the presidency, especially on Canada and Mexico.

While Kushner’s time in the White House has been turbulent – Chief of Staff John Kelly temporarily stripped him of his security clearance this year and he has been criticized for his dealings with the Middle East – his role in keeping the North American Trade Agreement afloat was fundamental, multiple sources said.

A 37-year-old real estate tycoon married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, Kushner has the trust of his father-in-law, and crucially, is close to Lighthizer, a Canadian source with knowledge of the talks said.

His friendship with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, whom he knows through Wall Street connections, helped defuse several blow-ups in that relationship and get a U.S.-Mexican deal over the finish line in August, another source close to the talks said.

"The deal fell apart more than once. And in every occasion it was one person that always found a way to put it back together: Jared Kushner," Videgaray told Reuters.

Kushner’s help in the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) could pay dividends down the road.

Kushner, who traveled to China with Trump last year, has a good relationship with the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said a source familiar with the situation. That may be useful when Trump moves to cool his trade war with the Asian nation.
"I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, this agreement would not have happened if it wasn’t for Jared," Lighthizer told reporters.

The 70-year-old veteran negotiator was referring to Jared Kushner, more than 30 years his junior and Donald Trump’s son-in-law, whom the president had asked to help out on trade early in the presidency, especially on Canada and Mexico.

While Kushner’s time in the White House has been turbulent – Chief of Staff John Kelly temporarily stripped him of his security clearance this year and he has been criticized for his dealings with the Middle East – his role in keeping the North American Trade Agreement afloat was fundamental, multiple sources said.

A 37-year-old real estate tycoon married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, Kushner has the trust of his father-in-law, and crucially, is close to Lighthizer, a Canadian source with knowledge of the talks said.

His friendship with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, whom he knows through Wall Street connections, helped defuse several blow-ups in that relationship and get a U.S.-Mexican deal over the finish line in August, another source close to the talks said.

"The deal fell apart more than once. And in every occasion it was one person that always found a way to put it back together: Jared Kushner," Videgaray told Reuters.

Kushner’s help in the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) could pay dividends down the road.

Kushner, who traveled to China with Trump last year, has a good relationship with the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said a source familiar with the situation. That may be useful when Trump moves to cool his trade war with the Asian nation.
Tensions between the United States and Canada started at the top, with relations strained between Trump and Trudeau after acrimonious talks in Quebec City in June at a G7 summit.

"There was a lot of tension, I will say, between he and I – I think, more specifically," Trump told a news conference on Monday. "You know when it ended? About 12 o’clock last night."

At every slump in the talks, which began formally in August last year, multiple players helped stabilize the situation. One of the hairiest moments was in April last year, when trade experts say Trump was close to triggering U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA, prompting frantic lobbying from business groups.

Trump changed his mind, according to one source close to the talks, only after agriculture minister Sonny Perdue showed the president a map including all the Trump-supporting, farming states that would suffer lost exports if NAFTA collapsed.

The United States Department of Agriculture did not respond to a request for comment about this incident, which has been previously reported by Reuters and other media.

Similarly, there was more to bringing the talks to a last-minute finale than just Kushner’s efforts. Outside factors were also pushing all sides toward a deal.

In the weeks following the announcement of the Mexico-U.S. deal, U.S. and Mexican officials increasingly understood a new trade accord might not pass Congress without Canada on board, said one U.S.-based source familiar with the process.

Anxious to avoid being left with nothing, Videgaray and Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, Mexico’s lead in the negotiations, worked behind the scenes to "triangulate" communication between the Canadians and the Americans to try to land the deal, the source said.

Videgaray’s relationship with Kushner was a safety valve that lowered tensions between Freeland and Lighthizer, the source said. Another source said Guajardo offered Freeland advice on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last week about negotiating bilaterally with Lighthizer.

In the end, the talks went down to the wire, with Kushner abandoning plans to spend the Jewish festival of Sukkot with his family late on Sunday, the person in Washington said, as Canada and the United States thrashed out the last details of a deal. It was finally announced at 11:35 p.m. EDT (0335 GMT), just 25 minutes before the deadline.

Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington, Dave Graham and Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City; writing by Frank Jack Daniel; editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish

Published under: Trade