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Other Voices: U.S. should be working to update NAFTA, not destroy it

By San Antonio Express-News
Nov. 28, 2017 at 11:24 p.m.


The rhetoric about NAFTA has been searing, but Texas Sen. John Cornyn believes cooler heads will prevail.

In comments made at a recent North American Trade Agreement field hearing in San Antonio, Cornyn said he is optimistic a deal will be reached because the agreement is too important for the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

"I think the consequences of failure are really going to be bad for all three countries involved," he said.

We agree also about the consequences of failure, especially for Texas, but are less optimistic negotiations will be successful. The U.S. has made a number of untenable demands on the other countries that flirt with future failure.

Timing is also an issue. Talks are extending into 2018, a year of big elections. Mexico will elect a new president this summer, and U.S. midterm elections will follow in the fall.

NAFTA has been unfairly maligned. On the whole, it has been modestly good for the U.S. The Congressional Research Service estimated the agreement boosted GDP by 0.5 percent in 2015, for example. Economists have said it has likely preserved manufacturing jobs in North America that otherwise would have moved to China.

Texas has benefited from the free trade agreement. The Lone State State led the nation with $232 billion in exports in 2016, per the International Trade Administration.

Our top export destination? Mexico. It's not even close.

It speaks to the agreement's value that the auto, agriculture, manufacturing and oil and gas industries overwhelmingly support NAFTA.

Does the agreement need updating? Of course. It's been more than 20 years.

But the White House has made that task unnecessarily difficult with heated rhetoric and ridiculous positions. These include: A five-year sunset clause, which would undermine any agreement; demanding that 85 percent of any vehicle be manufactured in North America and 50 percent in the U.S., which is an invitation to simply manufacture in China or raise prices on consumers; and ending third-party arbitration.

These are all nonstarters that unnecessarily threaten an agreement that has served all three countries well.

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