When rene­go­ti­at­ing NAFTA, we must do no harm

Houston Chronicle - - OUTLOOK - By Henry Cuel­lar

Do no harm has been the ba­sic tenet of sup­port­ers since the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced its in­ten­tion to rene­go­ti­ate the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA). That means not hurt­ing the re­la­tion­ships we have built with our neigh­bors who work with us on a daily ba­sis to pro­mote trade and bor­der se­cu­rity and are the first to ren­der aid in our times of need. It also means not hurt­ing the vi­brant and es­sen­tial in­ter­con­nected trade net­works that have flour­ished in the past 23 years, cre­at­ing growth in regional economies and help­ing com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try.

Nat­u­rally, ne­go­ti­a­tions are points of con­flict, but our ap­proach should ac­knowl­edge decades of co­op­er­a­tion, as well as the suc­cess of free trade in im­prov­ing all of our economies. Vit­ri­olic rhetoric around ne­go­ti­a­tions, national se­cu­rity and im­mi­gra­tion strain our close friend­ships and is dis­re­spect­ful of our shared his­to­ries. It is more im­por­tant than ever that we do no harm in style, as well as in sub­stance.

When NAFTA took ef­fect, it cre­ated the world’s largest free trade re­gion. Canada and Mex­ico are our sec­on­dand third-largest trad­ing part­ners for ev­ery­thing from corn to cars and trucks to nat­u­ral gas. Even our elec­tri­cal grids are con­nected up and down our bor­ders. These trade con­nec­tions sup­port nearly 14 mil­lion jobs in the United States, sup­ply fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles year round, and in­crease our GDP by $127 bil­lion. In Texas alone, 380,000 jobs de­pend on trade with Mex­ico, and nearly 2 mil­lion jobs are trade-re­lated.

We must main­tain this progress as we move for­ward with ne­go­ti­a­tions. Canada or Mex­ico rep­re­sents the largest or sec­ond largest for­eign pur­chaser of man­u­fac­tured goods for 46 states. Man­u­fac­tur­ing sup­ply chains are so in­te­grated that the av­er­age North Amer­i­can auto part crosses a NAFTA bor­der seven times be­fore the ve­hi­cle is ready for sale. We must be aware of the im­por­tance of this agree­ment to sup­pli­ers in the chain be­fore im­pact­ing decades of busi­ness devel­op­ment.

Our en­ergy sec­tors are just as in­te­grated as our man­u­fac­tur­ing. Nearly all — 97 per­cent — of crude oil im­ported from Mex­ico is sent to Hous­ton and other Gulf Coast re­finer­ies. They then send 52 per­cent of all re­fined ex­ports back to Mex­ico. Stable con­di­tions cre­ated by long-term agree­ments have made it pos­si­ble for huge in­creases in nat­u­ral gas ex­ports to Mex­ico, which in turn leads to a cleaner en­ergy mix and cleaner air.

There is no doubt that NAFTA could use an up­date to bring the deal into the 21st cen­tury. The agree­ment took ef­fect be­fore the in­ter­net and e-com­merce, be­fore next-day pur­chas­ing from our phones and be­fore mil­lions of dol­lars of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty could cross bor­ders in sec­onds. In­tro­duc­ing dig­i­tal pro­vi­sions and re­mov­ing non-tar­iff bar­ri­ers to trade are ways to make a good deal bet­ter. Ev­i­dence-based ap­proaches to cus­toms and agri­cul­tural in­spec­tion will make our econ­omy smarter, faster and safer.

Con­gress will need to vote on the new trade agree­ment. This will need to be a bi­par­ti­san process, and I and many of my col­leagues have been meet­ing reg­u­larly with con­gres­sional and ad­min­is­tra­tion lead­ers on trade, as well as those of our ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners. Rep­re­sent­ing com­mu­ni­ties from Laredo to Des Moines and Hous­ton to Seat­tle, which have al­ready seen the ben­e­fits of trade, my col­leagues and I will re­view the fi­nal deal to en­sure that it does no harm to the fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties and busi­nesses grow­ing our econ­omy ev­ery day. Cuel­lar rep­re­sents Texas’ 28th Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, which ex­tends from the Rio Grande to the sub­urbs of San An­to­nio.

As­so­ci­ated Press file

Talks should ac­knowl­edge decades of co­op­er­a­tion and suc­cess of free trade.

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