Should we be grateful that President Donald Trump had an “epiphany” and decided to change his mind about pulling the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)?
Apparently, he was itching to sign an executive order scrapping the 23-year-old trilateral trade deal when he had a change of heart after telephone calls with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts.
Or rather, should we be really concerned that the leader of the free world can switch his ideological position so suddenly on an issue that appeared so pivotal to his successful presidential campaign?
“It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation … I believe that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better,” Trump said in a conciliatory statement last week following the phone calls with Enrique Peña Nieto and Justin Trudeau.
Compare those words to his previous comments on NAFTA: “The single worst trade deal ever approved” … “very, very bad for our country … very, very bad for our companies and for our workers.”
In contrast to the campaign, behind the scenes at the White House, it was revealed, Trump had received some basic education and hard facts about how NAFTA exactly benefits the United States.
A turning point came, it has been reported, when the president was shown a map indicating how the trade deal actually helps farmers and workers in many parts of the country that voted for him last year.
The agriculture secretary and agriculture lobbyists bent Trump’s ear last week, impressing on him how the nation’s farmers would suffer in the event that NAFTA is cancelled. Maybe he was surprised to learn the extent of the U.S. farm sector’s trade with its southern neighbor – soybean exports to Mexico, for example, are worth around $US3 billion a year.
Nearly all serious studies done on the impact of NAFTA show the overall benefits to outweigh the negatives – for all three nations. Yes, rust belt communities in the United States have suffered inevitable plant closures due to uncompetitive salaries, but 1.9 million U.S. jobs are dependent on exports to Mexico, now totaling nearly $US250 billion.
Although NAFTA has failed to reduce the income gap between rich and poor in Mexico, this country’s middle-class has grown substantially over the past two decades and World Bank data shows that poverty is decreasing.
The steady flow of U.S. investment in Mexico has created many new jobs south of the border, and NAFTA can take credit for stemming the flow of migrants north. More Mexicans are now returning home than are crossing the border illegally, according to Pew Institute research.
It is likely Trump is only now learning about these “facts,” perhaps encouraged by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who, reports suggest, made a last-ditch phone call to Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to plead with him to talk some sense into his father-in-law about the importance of keeping NAFTA alive.
Trump has qualified his recent comments about NAFTA by saying he will still pull the plug on the accord if the United States fails to get a fair deal during the renegotiation process. “I’m not looking to hurt Canada and I’m not looking to hurt Mexico. They’re two countries I really like,” he said. However, the reality that this novice president may finally be grasping is that without NAFTA, the country that will be hurt most of all will be the United States.