Commentary: On May 18, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer formerly notified Congress that he would be renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with partners Mexico and Canada. With this notice, the administration can begin renegotiations after 90 days. Even though the overwhelming majority of economists tout the value of international trade and the benefits that accrue to the U.S., NAFTA has been made a lightning rod in political battles.
It behooves the average citizen to research and be informed about the many aspects of this agreement. However, sources, particularly on the internet, are not always accurate. Many sites and sources are actively pursuing a biased agenda meant to sway public and political opinion one way or the other. It is often hard to know where to locate accurate information on NAFTA. Therefore, I put together a few sources that I use for NAFTA background, statistics, and common issues – some that I have used over the years and trust, and some that have been provided to me from colleagues from sources such as the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. District Export Council, and the Council on Foreign Relations.
One source I use for NAFTA information and general information on international trade is export.gov, managed by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, which collaborates with 19 U.S. government agencies to host this website. A visitor to the site can search for “NAFTA,” and a plethora of background and statistical information can be accessed. This helpful international trade website is sponsored by the very federal government that is advocating the renegotiation of the agreement.
The U.S. Trade Representative is the key administration official who negotiates trade agreements and works to resolve trade disputes with other countries. The USTR website (https://ustr.gov/) is very informational as to NAFTA, and trade agreements that the U.S. has with other countries, as well as regional, country, and even state trade statistics.
A quick assessment of NAFTA’s impact on the three North American trade partners can be found on the Council on Foreign Relations website (www.cfr.org/backgrounder/naftas-economic-impact). The Council on Foreign Relations is an independent. non-profit, non-partisan organization that focuses on U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. It has approximately 5,000 members comprised of ex-federal officials, financiers, senior politicians, and major media figures.
In May, the Congressional Research Service published a great comprehensive document on NAFTA titled, “The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),” which can be found at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42965.pdf. This publication goes through a background of NAFTA, statistics, the effects on all three countries, issues by country and sector, and even procedures for withdrawal. Although the document is 38 pages, it is one of the most complete NAFTA documents I have read.
According to its website, The National District Export Council (DEC) consists of members who have been elected to the National DEC by DEC members from each of the eight U.S. Commercial Service Networks. It provides input to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the DEC network, the international business community, and policymakers. On the DEC’s home page (http://www.districtexportcouncil.org/) is a link called “Facts on NAFTA,” that when clicked will bring up a detailed report on every aspect of the agreement titled, “The Facts on NAFTA, Assessing Two Decades of Gains in Trade, Growth, and Jobs.” This document contains statistics, charts, and detailed information on NAFTA. Of particular focus is NAFTA’s impact on U.S. employment.
Excellent reviews of NAFTA’s accomplishments and issues can be found in “NAFTA at 20?” by the Economist magazine (www.economist.com/news/briefing/21592631), and “NAFTA's Economic Upsides” (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/canada/2013-12-06/naftas-economic-upsides) by former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hill. Finally, a good publication titled, “NAFTA at 20, Misleading Charges and Positive Statements,” that debunks the most extreme positions of the pro- an anti-NAFTA camps is provided by the Peterson Institute for International Economics at https://piie.com/sites/default/files/publications/pb/pb14-13.pdf.
I encourage people interested or concerned about NAFTA to stop speculating and rise above the rhetoric about what the agreement has or has not accomplished. The sources listed above provide comprehensive and accurate information about the U.S.’s most prominent free trade agreement. The more informed the average American citizen is about the issues surrounding NAFTA, the better we can intelligibly understand what this agreement means to the U.S., and to guide our congressional representatives as the renegotiation takes place.
Jerry Pacheco is President of the Border Industrial Association. His columns appear in The Albuquerque Journal.