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, President Trump’s son-in-law, whom Trump 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, his role in keeping the North American Trade Agreement afloat was fundamental, multiple sources said.
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 from Wall Street, helped diffuse several blowups 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.
Similarly, the ties he forged with two of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most trusted advisers early on in the negotiations came to the fore again last week, when the mood became toxic between Lighthizer and Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s lead negotiator in the talks and the country’s foreign minister, as the U.S.-imposed Sept. 30 deadline to conclude the talks loomed.
On Friday, Kushner got Lighthizer on a conference call with Trudeau’s advisers. “Together the four of them worked through some of the outstanding issues and that led to a breakthrough in the negotiations, ultimately leading to the success of the deal,” said a person in Washington familiar with the situation.
With a deal in sight, Mexico and the United States canceled plans to publish on Friday evening the text of their bilateral deal to give Canada the chance to join by the Sunday deadline.
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