5 Things You Need to Know About NAFTA

By Alexandra Moffit
Photo: President Clinton Signing NAFTA, Creative Commons License

1. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a treaty between the United States, Canada, and Mexico that’s been in effect since 1994.

The region is home to over 444 million people. Before NAFTA, the United States and Canada created a free trade agreement in 1989. The three countries started negotiations under the tenure of President George H. W. Bush, and the treaty was completed and signed into law by President Clinton.

2. NAFTA was put in place to encourage economic integration between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

NAFTA pushes countries to open their markets and eliminate tariffs. Another major goal of the treaty was to create and encourage North American competitiveness in the world. NAFTA was to create an economic zone like the European Union.

Similar to the European Union, an open economic zone would allow each country to specialize. In the United States, one oft-cited example is manufacturing. Since manufacturing is often cheaper in Mexico, some companies have moved production from the United States to Mexico under NAFTA. On the other hand, surplus agriculture such as almonds in the United States could be exported to Mexico or Canada.

3. NAFTA isn’t just an agreement – there are many institutions in place to facilitate it.

NAFTA includes a Free Trade Commission. This commission oversees the work of several working groups, committees, and other entities of NAFTA. There are many working groups in place to encourage investment and trade. These are in place to encourage cooperation in areas such as labor and environmental policies. Important aspects of NAFTA include customs, goods, agriculture, and business. Millions of people in each of the three countries depend on NAFTA every day.

4. President Trump hates NAFTA.
President Trump blames NAFTA for the loss of some U.S. jobs to Mexico. He has called the treaty the “worst trade deal in history.”  President Trump also remarked, “I’ve been opposed to NAFTA for a long time, in terms of the fairness of NAFTA.”

As President Trump said, the treaty caused some job loss in the United States’ Rust Belt, specifically in the manufacturing sector. However, millions of other American jobs depend on NAFTA In addition, there is no proven direct causation for any net loss of jobs being because of NAFTA, as job losses depend on many factors. For example, around the same time as NAFTA, China emerged as a manufacturing powerhouse and joined the World Trade Organization. China joining the WTO is one of the many potential factors that resulted in job losses in the United States’ manufacturing sector since 1994.

5. The United States, Canada, and Mexico have been renegotiating NAFTA for several months, and there is no end in sight.

Since President Trump took office, renegotiating NAFTA has been a top priority. The three countries have been negotiating a rewrite of the treaty for the past few months, with four rounds of talks completed so far.

In the most recent meetings, the NAFTA negotiators have decided to extend negotiations into 2018. The three North American powers have not been able to find common ground on several important points. These contentious points include how to rewrite the treaty and whether NAFTA should have to be renewed every five years. The fate of NAFTA is in jeopardy. Many experts believe that the dissolution of NAFTA could jeopardize North American competitiveness, making competing with China and the European Union more difficult. The current American climate of protectionism could hurt the economic growth of all three countries in the short term and long term.