This week, President Donald Trump tweeted once again about two major issues: illegal immigration and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although talks about the longevity of NAFTA have been present since early in the Trump administration, it wasn’t until late 2017 and early 2018 that Trump increasingly supported the termination of the program. Most recently, on April 1, Trump stated that unless Mexico better secures its border, he will stop NAFTA negotiations and terminate the treaty altogether.
Not only would this completely undo all of the progress his administration has made toward adjusting the agreement to benefit Americans, but it will also display a radically irresponsible mentality in the way Trump addresses international politics.
NAFTA was the result of bilateral talks between the U.S., Mexico and Canada in 1991 and went fully into effect on Jan. 1, 1994. The agreement essentially clears the board for trade between these countries, cutting tariffs and restrictions and opening doors for completely free trade. All restrictions, with the exception of several quantitative agricultural restrictions to Canada, were removed by early 2008. In May 2017, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer stated that the U.S. would be instigating negotiations between Mexico and Canada to better support American business and job creation. However, now these negotiations, which had been underway for almost a year, may be thrown out the window as Trump moves to discard the agreement altogether.
With all the reconstruction NAFTA has been undergoing, it does not make sense to simply discard the agreement in order to make a point. Not only could this hurt international trade, and at worst instigate a trade war like the one the U.S. gears up to have with China, but it could also hurt the growth of U.S.-based jobs. According to a Sept. 2017 New York Times article, the major discussions that have come up during the NAFTA negotiations have revolved around three areas: rules of origin, arbitration and modernization. Rules of origin have to do with the U.S. desire to put a higher import tax on cars that were partially made in the U.S., whether or not the manufacturer is based in Mexico or Canada. Arbitration revolves around regulations North American countries are able to use to monitor participants of NAFTA that are violating the trade agreement. Arbitration has mostly been used by Canada and Mexico to monitor the U.S. on violations. The last part, modernization, is a move to modernize the agreement to more accurately represent trading between the three countries, due to the growth of e-commerce and new workplace regulations. While all three of these are under debate, it seems that the White House is holding its ground and attempting to work in the U.S.’s best interests.
All of this work is being undermined by Trump’s brash decision to use NAFTA as a bargaining chip. Not only is this trade deal incredibly important to the American people, Trump’s threats to its longevity also represent the shift toward American isolation. In a turbulent cultural climate, the U.S. cannot afford to break off trade deals with anyone, much less with our closest neighbors.
Instead of dangling the fate of NAFTA like a carrot in front of Mexico’s nose, perhaps we should be looking at more proactive ways to negotiate with Mexico within the NAFTA agreement to not only protect trade interests, but to maintain a more secure border, as Trump so desires.