U.S. trade officials began renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) soon after President Donald Trump took office. The agreement, signed in 1994, has been a boon to the country’s agriculture sector, but has been blamed for the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., joined 35 Republican senators to send a letter to Trump highlighting NAFTA benefits and outlining how the agreement can be improved. The Republicans signing the letter come from predominantly rural, agriculture states in the south, midwest, and west.
“NAFTA supports 14 million jobs, representing thousands of jobs in each of the 50 states,” the letter noted.”Despite all of its benefits, however, we can do better and there are opportunities to improve the agreement. Modernizing NAFTA to increase market access, expand energy exports to maximize domestic energy production and including provisions on intellectual property and e-commerce will make this agreement even more beneficial to the United States.”
Agriculture is Arkansas’s largest economic sector with an annual impact of $16 billion. The markets for soybeans, rice, and cotton – staple crops in Arkansas – have expanded since the implementation of NAFTA, and the agricultural expansion continues to grow each year.
Trump has said repeatedly he wants to end the agreement, but some in his own party have pushed back due to the potential agriculture market impacts. The letter touted the benefits of the agreement.
“NAFTA has driven U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico to approximately $1.3 trillion, annually. A wide range of industries in the U.S. have benefited from this agreement and American consumers are reaping those benefits, too. Canadians and Mexicans buy nearly $500 billion worth of U.S. manufactured goods each year, translating to $37,000 in export revenue for every American factory worker, and U.S. agricultural exports to the two countries have quadrupled under the agreement from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $38.1 billion in 2016. NAFTA supports 14 million jobs, representing thousands of jobs in each of the 50 states.”
The senators acknowledged the agreement needs to be improved. Increased market access, expanded energy exports to maximize domestic energy production and provisions on intellectual property and e-commerce would improve the agreement, the senators stated.
“The next step to advance the economy requires that we keep NAFTA in place, but modernize it to better reflect our 21st century economy. We look forward to working with you and your Administration to make that modernization a reality and bring Americans even greater economic success.”
Arkansas Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward, who has been in several high-profile meetings with federal agricultural leaders and has been a point man for Gov. Asa Hutchinson on the issue, was returning from meetings in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday night. He told Talk Business & Politics he’s seen the letter and is encouraged by the support expressed.
“We appreciate Sen. Boozman and Gov. Hutchinson being advocates and drawing attention to ways to further support efforts to improve and modernize the NAFTA agreement. Anything we can do to improve opportunities that are beneficial to Arkansas farmers and ranchers is important,” Ward said.
Talk Business & Politics CEO Roby Brock contributed to this report.