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The Source: NAFTA, Mexico Under Fire This Election Cycle

Michel Marizco

The North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in San Antonio on October 7th 1992. But today NAFTA is being criticized by political candidates on the left and the right. And as TPR’s David Martin Davies reports supporters of NAFTA want to respond.

When Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump talks about NAFTA – he’s not a fan. He calls it the “worst trade agreement in the history of the world.”

“I think NAFTA is a total disaster.  I told you Ford is building a factory in Mexico. What good does that do? They’re hiring thousands of people – all Mexicans. What do we get out of it? We don’t get anything.”

Bernie Sanders - Vermont Senator and Democratic dark horse candidate for President – says NAFTA was a mistake and has hurt organized labor in the United States.

“I will fundamentally re-write NAFTA. Not only did I oppose NAFTA – I stood on picket lines with workers in opposition to this disastrous trade agreement. Secretary Clinton supported it.”

However, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has gone on the offensive in defending NAFTA calling it a “miracle.” He points out that NAFTA has created the largest trade balance between two economies, which is Mexico and the United States.

Because of NAFTA the two counties have a unique arrangement called production sharing.

That gives the U.S. a positive balance of trade with Mexico. 

Robert McKinley – a board member for the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce – says San Antonio is the shining example of an economy that’s flourishing under NAFTA.

“NAFTA has benefited by bringing those efficiencies to the market. There’s been a march of co-production integration here in San Antonio you see the Toyota plant – you see the railroads bringing chases that are made in Monterey that are brought up here so we get pieces but then we do the labor intensive assembly here.”

McKinley says the problem is that NAFTA is misunderstood. Many don’t see how it’s benefited the economies of all three participating nations.

“Face it – the job structure in the United States is not the way it was in the 50’s or the turn of the century – we have to re-invent ourselves and update our skills – and restructure our economy all that time. I think it’s the elements that feel left out or were left out of that for the failure of our policies or for the failure of ourselves to react to inevitable change.”

But Walt Wilson – a UTSA professor political science says the U.S. middle and working class is frustrated with NAFTA and other trade deals – because they have seen their jobs leave for Mexico and China. This along with other regressive economic policies have hurt the American middle class – and NAFTA is the target their anger.

“We are transitioning to a service economy – but is it going to be a service economy that will pay the bills for the worker who has not gotten the college education. So I think that a lot of the anxiety that voters seem to be expressing has to do with those kinds of issues – you know – work needs to pay.”

But Wilson – speaking on TPR’s the Source on Wednesday – added that even if voters manage to send a loud message to Washington D.C. to end NAFTA – that won’t bring the jobs back.

“I don’t think for practical purposes that you can roll back the clock on this thing – the global integration of the economy is such that extricating yourself from that even if you wanted to would be impossible.”

McKinley also points out that Mexico is the third largest trading partner with the United States.

and the U.S. enjoys a trade surplus with Mexico. And that creates jobs particularly in Texas  and San Antonio.

  • Robert McKinley, Board Member at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Senior VP of Economic Development at UTSA
  • Walt Wilson, Professor of Political Science at UTSA
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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi