In his first weeks in office, President Trump began fulfilling his campaign threats to discard or dismantle the trade agreements that help keep the U.S. an international economic powerhouse. He has set his sights on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Texans, like my constituents on the U.S.-Mexico border, know this deal better than most. NAFTA has delivered value to American consumers and provided opportunities for American businesses; eliminating it would be dangerous to our state’s prosperity and to the national economy. However, there is room to update the 23-year-old deal for the 21st century.
Thanks to NAFTA, Canada and Mexico are our nation’s top two export markets, and two of our top three total trading partners. Canadian and Mexican customers buy U.S. products and help drive the American economy. Our home state of Texas is the perfect example of the success of this deal. Texas exports to Mexico have increased by 363.8 percent since NAFTA went into effect. Last year, trade activity through our 29 ports of entry supported more than one and a half million Texas jobs. The five ports in my home city of Laredo alone account for more than $52 billion of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).
To be sure, NAFTA could use an update. The deal was struck when cell phones and internet commerce were in their infancy. Sanitation standards and safety rules for agricultural imports do not reflect the latest scientific knowledge. The complex rules of origin no longer reflect the realities of the modern supply chain.
NAFTA 2.0 could strengthen those standards, meaning more textiles, electronics, and automobiles would be made in America. Higher labor standards could increase minimum wages in Mexico, improving our neighbor’s economic and social situation – which is the right thing to do and good for us, too.
New trade negotiations are also an opportunity to bring up other issues with our neighbors: We could secure increased investment in port infrastructure, reducing costly congestion and delays at our international borders.
But President Trump, as a leader in real estate, should know that you don’t tear down a building that just needs new shutters and a fresh coat of paint. Free trade agreements mean freer markets when companies in different countries play by the same rules and compete for customers across borders. If we recklessly abandon the rules, so will our neighbors, and that means trouble for American businesses and consumers. The economic and diplomatic impacts could be devastating, especially to border states like ours.
NAFTA gives American businesses a chance to compete and American consumers more choice and value. It was born of common sense, not ideology: the deal was spearheaded by Republican President George H.W. Bush and ratified under Democratic President Bill Clinton. It set an amazing precedent for free trade across the globe. The economic activity it generates is vital to our nation. If he is serious about negotiating NAFTA 2.0, President Trump should listen to constituents on the border and the millions of American workers, including Texans, whose jobs are in the balance.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column by Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo first appeared in The Hill Newspaper. Click here to read the original posting.