Negotiations for revising and modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) begin today, and American manufacturing workers whose jobs are dependent on exports are watching closely.
NAFTA went into effect in 1994, and since then, the United States has sold three times as much to Canada and Mexico. In 2016, the two countries alone purchased one-fifth of all manufactured goods made in the United States. This is a big deal for manufacturing workers and their families because those sales support jobs here at home—a lot of well-paying jobs. Sales of manufactured goods to Canada and Mexico, made possible through NAFTA, support the jobs of more than 2 million manufacturing workers.
When someone says that we need to abandon NAFTA to support manufacturing workers, they have the facts backward. It’s certainly true that NAFTA could use some improvements. After all, it’s more than 20 years old. A tune-up, if done right, could help, especially if it’s focused on eliminating remaining barriers to selling U.S. goods, raising standards to U.S. levels, cutting red tape and improving existing enforcement tools.
Those would be steps in the right direction. However, we should not blame manufacturing’s challenges over the past few decades on NAFTA. NAFTA has been a powerful tool to strengthen our industry and help manufacturers in the United States nearly double our production. It’s other policies that have held us back and discouraged investment in the United States—policies like our outdated tax code and our overreaching, complicated regulatory system. Our declining, deteriorating infrastructure has also hurt the industry and our workers.
So as negotiators sit down this week and again in the coming weeks to determine what NAFTA will look like in the future, I urge them to stick to the facts and help manufacturers build on the agreement’s accomplishments to improve, not weaken, America’s global competitiveness. Manufacturers will continue advocating a stronger, modernized NAFTA so that we can keep growing and thriving here in America.
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