Although our nation has retreated from pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) remains in place. NAFTA, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, has clearly been productive for farmers and for America. While we do not know the future of the long-standing partnership, we have to explore the implications of changing NAFTA as it is today. We have to look at the impacts from many perspectives, including our Mexican counterparts: farmers.
Dairy farmer Gina Gutierrez of Mexico argues why NAFTA is so important to both countries:
The government of Mexico earlier this month re-launched an old marketing campaign: “Hecho en Mexico.” A strategy that started back in the 70’s, with the idea of promoting products made in our country. This is a worthy effort because we need to improve our internal markets.
Yet everybody knows the real motive: The slogan is a nationalist response to President Trump, who continues to threaten to re-negotiate NAFTA.
If our two nations re-negotiate NAFTA, as President Trump has sworn to do, “Hecho en Mexico” may become less an option than a necessity for Mexican consumers. Right now, U.S. goods and services are widely available south of the border. In 2015, for example, Mexicans bought nearly $18 billion in farm products from Americans. Not even the combined members of the European Union bought this much, and only the Canadians and Chinese bought more. Mexican dairy imports alone support 30,000 American jobs.
NAFTA allows Mexican consumers to enjoy choices like never before, letting us compare prices and quality between competing items. We discovered that we love American products—and their entry into our markets encouraged many Mexican companies to improve. We’ve gone from building TVs that barely work to becoming the world’s top exporter of flat-screen televisions.
NAFTA makes me a better farmer, too. On our family farm in central Mexico, we raise more than 400 dairy cows, also growing corn and grass for feed on 40 hectares. Yet we purchase plenty of feed as well, and free trade with the United States and Canada makes it possible to buy high-quality yellow corn rather than depending on cheap sorghum.
Mexican farmers, in turn, have gained new opportunities to sell avocados, limes, and tomatoes. NAFTA even ensures that Americans have access to genuine Mexican tequila made from the blue agave plant.
Altering NAFTA puts everything at risk—but a re-negotiation also presents the chance to make a good agreement better. A revised deal, for example, could incorporate more e-commerce, which did not exist when our countries completed the pact in the early 1990s.
Agriculture has seen its own advancements, especially in seed technology. A new-and-improved NAFTA might persuade Mexico at last to permit GMOs, which so far my country has resisted despite their impressive global track record. Farmers like me want to take advantage of drought-resistant corn, helping us grow more food on less land and keeping consumer prices in check.
Yet it’s also possible to imagine a worse NAFTA. I worry that a botched agreement would force me to downsize my farm—and additionally hurt millions of people on both sides of the border.
A re-negotiation that restricts the flow of goods, services, and technologies, would compel Mexico to search for new trade partners. We already have free-trade agreements with dozens of nations and we’re currently in talks to expand our ties to the EU. We’re also likely to push ahead with a Trans-Pacific Partnership that improves our links to Australia, Japan, and New Zealand, even though it no longer includes the United States.
Think of it this way: If we can’t buy grains from Americans, we’ll possibly need to buy corn from Brazil and soy from Argentina.
I don’t know why President Trump would want this, let alone the corn and soybean farmers from Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and elsewhere who voted for him in such large numbers last year.
A U.S.-Mexico trade war helps nobody. We all suffered through a skirmish in 2009, when then President Obama’s administration blocked Mexican trucks from American highways. My government retaliated with special duties on fruits and vegetables, slashing the incomes of the American farmers who grew them. Eventually, we settled the dispute—but in the meantime, everybody paid a price.
President Trump talks about putting “America First.” Fair enough: Leaders everywhere look after their national interests. Yet if this motto is just another way of saying “Mexico Last,” President Trump may become sorry about pushing our partnership into animosity. Throttling the Mexican economy is the surest way to encourage illegal immigration across the Rio Grande.
Let’s keep NAFTA alive, with “Made in the USA” continuing to appear in Mexican markets and “Hecho en Mexico” showing up in American stores.
We’re very different, but it is in that diversity that we must find unity. We’re neighbors. We might as well be friends.