In a quirk of geography, Dallas-Fort Worth is about equidistant from Mexico City and Toronto, giving us a unique vantage point to assess how the North American Free Trade Agreement has reshaped large parts of the local economy.
The focus on NAFTA is especially timely as we head a trade mission starting Sunday to Canada, seeking to promote Dallas and Fort Worth business opportunities, development and tourism with an important partner.
Canada is Texas’ third-largest trade partner, with $35 billion in import-export activity, and the North Texas region accounted for a large chunk of that. The Dallas-Fort Worth area exports three times more merchandise to both Mexico and Canada than to China, its No. 3 exports destination. About 68 North Texas companies operate in Canada, and almost twice as many Canadian companies do so in North Texas.
Beyond the robust statistics, trade policy is gaining more attention nationally after President Donald Trump vowed to withdraw from NAFTA but later said he wanted expedited approval of a reworked agreement, a move pending in Congress. In Toronto, we will be participating in a panel discussion of the future of NAFTA with Steve Verheul, recently named Canada’s chief negotiator in NAFTA talks with Washington.
Amid the debate, one constant has emerged: The trade pact dramatically has affected business dynamics in our backyard. Since NAFTA took effect two decades ago, U.S. trade with Mexico and Canada has more than tripled, and Texas is such a large and important trading partner that some have called D-FW the business capital of NAFTA.
Dallas and Fort Worth have huge transportation networks and distribution hubs that are heavily invested in trade associated with NAFTA. In addition, North Texas is a leader in finance and business services, part of a growing export sector. And our deep talent pool makes D-FW a top pick for companies looking to establish a North American trade base.
NAFTA has gone far in building stronger alliances among our trading partners, transforming parts of North America into an integrated economy that generates widespread benefits. Any changes should be enacted with care, ensuring that workers and industry have the tools to thrive and compete globally.
North Texas is a rapidly growing region where businesses, innovation and ingenuity flourish. We agree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers that some of NAFTA’s rules need modernizing to reflect today’s business reality and better prepare for future trade patterns.
But it is important to do no harm, keep the trade pact trilateral, maintain Texas’ global competitiveness and move quickly to prevent marketplace uncertainty.
Our trip also will focus on sharing ideas and getting a firsthand look at innovative urban transportation initiatives, similar to many underway in Dallas and Fort Worth. That includes the bullet train Texas Central is building between North Texas and Houston, and a separate idea for a high-speed link train between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Whether it is the complexities of an international trade agreement or the enhancement of city mobility programs, our goal on this trip is to explain what has driven success in Dallas and Fort Worth and to gather the best ideas that may be adapted for the public good here, Texas-style.
Mike Rawlings is mayor of Dallas. Twitter: @MikeRawlings.
Betsy Price is mayor of Fort Worth. Twitter: @MayorBetsyPrice