President Trump campaigned hard against the North American Free Trade Agreement, at one point declaring that the tariff-slashing pact with Canada and Mexico, in effect for 23 years, “has been a disaster for our country” and “has to be totally gotten rid of.” On another occasion, he pledged “to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers. And I don’t mean just a little bit better, I mean a lot better.” If our neighbors to the north and south did not agree to renegotiate, Trump said, then he would serve notice of American intent to exit the deal.

Now that his administration has revealed its draft NAFTA agenda, in the form of a letter to Congress from the acting U.S. trade representative, it would appear that Trump’s bark had little relationship to his bite. In tone, the document is conciliatory. Its preamble takes note of the extensive trading relationships that have flowered under NAFTA, and speaks of the great “potential . . . benefit” to the United States of “improving” it. In substance, it is conventional: a list of implicit but clear allusions to long-standing U.S. concerns such as domestic-content rules for the North American motor vehicle industry and Canada’s protection of its dairy farms.

Indeed, the president’s hostile and bombastic rhetoric – especially toward Mexico – has probably made it more difficult for the NAFTA countries to deal with the United States, when the talks do commence some months from now. Trump’s vilification of NAFTA may set a record for being simultaneously inflammatory and – we now know – hollow.