Editorial Roundup: NAFTA talks should be about partnership

Published 7:13 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2017

As President Trump talks about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement — or killing it outright if those negotiations don’t go his way — we hope that his objective is bigger than simply checking off another campaign promise.

Put another way, our nation’s trade deals with Canada and Mexico shouldn’t lead to tweets in which our president gloats about “winning” the negotiations with our neighbors to the north and south.

Geographically speaking, this is not a complex equation. America’s farmers and manufacturers need international markets for their products, and the closer those markets are, the lower the logistical costs. When man-made obstacles such as tariffs are reduced or eliminated, so much the better.

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It turns out Minnesota could be considered the poster child for the now 23-year-old trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

Data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development indicates Canada and Mexico now account for one-third of our state’s $19 billion in annual exports. Minnesota currently enjoys a trade surplus with Mexico, and our trade deficit with Canada has shrunk by two-thirds in the past eight years.

Companies including General Mills and Hormel are on the record in support of NAFTA, as is the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association. Exports of medical technology and heavy transport equipment from Minnesota to Mexico have soared in the past eight years, so a long list of Minnesota-based companies and trade associations will wait with bated breath if and when Trump sits down with leaders from Mexico and Canada.

We won’t say NAFTA is perfect, nor will we deny our trading partners have taken some actions that invite some backlash. For example, in recent weeks the PB has published numerous articles about how recent changes in Canada’s duties on dairy imports threatened to leave several area farms with no nearby processors to buy their milk.

Trump has responded by slapping a new 20 percent tariff on lumber imported from Canada. This new tax, along with Trump’s accompanying flurry of tweets, have made it clear helping America’s dairy farmers — Wisconsin was a huge factor in his Electoral College win — will be a top priority of any new NAFTA deal.

We won’t say the president is wrong, at least not in principle. Any trade deal that’s been in place for 23 years will contain elements that should be re-examined and possibly revised. Ideally, we’d love to see Minnesota enjoy a trade surplus with both Canada and Mexico.

But the spirit in which these negotiations take place will telling. Canada and Mexico are our trade partners, not our adversaries. The U.S. should seek to improve NAFTA, to make it more beneficial to all parties, rather than seeking “an edge” that will lead to retaliation down the road.

— Rochester Post Bulletin, June 17

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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