Donald Trump calls NAFTA a disaster, but Texans know better — and now’s the time to speak up

Dallas Morning News, Editorial

More defenders of the North American Free Trade Agreement and Mexico seem to be finding their voice. In op-eds, news reports and the U.S. Senate, they’re speaking out publicly about the benefits of trade, joint production and working together on security.

This is a welcome counterpoint to President Donald Trump’s attacks, both as a candidate and president. Earlier, he dominated news coverage with talk about the wall, and he’s stilling calling NAFTA a disaster. 

Texans know better, whether they’re counting exports, imports, jobs, competitiveness or immigration. NAFTA makes the state stronger on all these fronts, and elected officials and business leaders should keep telling the story. Maybe they can influence the president’s thinking.

The White House has been sending conflicting messages. On Tuesday, Trump told business executives to expect some “pleasant surprises” on NAFTA, and then he took another swipe at it. Last month, the Trump administration appeared to soften its anti-trade stance after a draft letter looked at ways to improve the trade deal, rather than blow it up. The press secretary later said the memo didn’t reflect Trump’s objectives.

That passes for progress in this presidency, which says a lot. The tension between Trump and Mexico has led to the strongest disagreements in the post-NAFTA era, said Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez, Mexico’s new ambassador to the U.S.

Mexicans living in the U.S. are fearful of deportations, and businesses worry about new border taxes and other changes. While some supporters are speaking out for the first time, Gutierrez wants others to help educate the public. He called it a never-ending task.

“I would appeal to all my good Texas friends that understand the relationship between Mexico and the United States to continue to be vocal about it,” Gutierrez told reporters from The Dallas Morning News last week.

Two weeks ago, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution reaffirming the U.S. strategic partnership with Mexico. Cornyn also wrote a piece titled: “Don’t end NAFTA. Fix it.” That followed an op-ed by six former U.S. ambassadors to Mexico, who urged more cooperation and fewer “exaggerated public accusations.”

“Well, those things help,” Gutierrez said.

Maybe time does, too. In Trump’s first months as president, more pressing issues emerged, including the travel ban, health care and Syria. Meanwhile, free-traders started talking about ways to update the 23-year-old agreement, from covering e-commerce to boosting manufacturing jobs. 

Mexico supports the same general approach, aiming to refine NAFTA, not disrupt it. The plan is to also let tensions subside.

“In a sense, we have been exercising strategic patience,” Gutierrez said.

Is it too much to hope that can rub off on Washington?

Standing by Mexico

I think NAFTA has been extremely beneficial to the United States, in many ways, but there’s no question after 23 years it needs to be updated, to say the least.” 
Rep. Kevin BradyR-Woodlands

It is vitally important, particularly for Texans, to ensure this strategic partnership is maintained by continuing to support economic and diplomatic cooperation between our two countries.”  
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

“From diplomacy to security, immigration to trade, the United States is safer and stronger when we work together with Mexico.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

“The United States’ relationship with Mexico has been in the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons. But the fact is, many of the challenges facing the United States cannot be effectively confronted … without cooperating and strategically planning with Mexico.”  
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.


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