by Sen. Pat Roberts
Facts are stubborn things. And it’s a fact that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has boosted the American economy for over 20 years.
As renegotiations of the trade pact are well underway, we need to take a good clear look at NAFTA and the undeniable benefits of trade with two of our closest partners — Canada and Mexico.
The facts speak for themselves, especially for my home state of Kansas. In 2016 alone, Kansas exported more than $300 million agriculture goods to our northern neighbor. Since NAFTA entered into force on Jan. 1, 1994, the value of U.S. agricultural exports to Canada has increased by 265 percent and to Mexico by 289 percent.
From agriculture to aviation, NAFTA has benefited my home state of Kansas tremendously. Wichita, Kan., has long been known as the “Air Capital of the World” for our highly skilled workforce and for being the foremost aerospace manufacturing center. Since 1994, Canada has been one of the top export markets for the aerospace industry.
After more than two decades of NAFTA being in force, it makes sense to take a look at areas of the agreement that can be modernized and strengthened.
Could we have done things better negotiating NAFTA? Yes. Can we still do things better renegotiating NAFTA? Absolutely.
However, we must not forget that Canada has long been one of our most reliable and important partners. Multiple times, we have fought side by side to ensure the security of our nations.
Part of that steadfast reliability stems from our mutually beneficial trading relationship. We cannot afford to let this investment go to waste.
As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, I have listened to farmers, ranchers and other end users like manufacturers about the importance of access to the global marketplace, especially in a tough economy for farm country. Simply put, our economy needs access to foreign markets if we are to achieve economic growth.
I have taken these concerns with NAFTA renegotiations and international trade directly to the president not once, but on four different occasions. In fact, to ensure the administration has the tools to promote American agriculture exports, our committee created an Under Secretary of Agriculture for trade and foreign affairs position within the USDA. I am working with the U.S. trade representative and his staff to ensure agriculture is a top consideration in negotiations.
From the beginning, I have called on American agriculture to have a unified message for NAFTA renegotiations of “do no harm.” While this unified message has been characterized by some in the administration as “screaming and yelling,” to me it is evidence of the serious and real consequences for farmers, ranchers and American consumers should NAFTA talks collapse or negotiators forget the benefits of this decades-old trading
relationship. Farmers, ranchers and businesses must keep up the pressure.
I support and applaud President Trump for wanting to find ways to make sure other sectors of the American economy will fare better going forward.
Aerospace and defense manufacturers rely on NAFTA and, most importantly, the certainty it provides in the global marketplace. For the last 23 years, businesses have developed their supply chains around trade agreements. Changes to NAFTA would disrupt aerospace and defense manufacturing operations and have a devastating impact on the economy in Kansas.
Aviation manufacturing operations, especially in Kansas, have grown in recent years. It is imperative the U.S. maintains the trade agreements with our allies to ensure success in the future.
That leaves us at a crossroads. We can choose to strengthen the relationship with one of our top trading partners in Canada, and at the same time boost the American economy, or we can choose to allow real damage on both fronts.
Sen. Pat Roberts is a member of the Senate Finance Committee and is chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.