SANTA TERESA, N.M. — The first round of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement start on August 16 in Washington, D.C., and some are worried that significant changes to NAFTA could put New Mexico’s improving economy in jeopardy.
President Trump had called the agreement the worst trade deal ever, but has since walked back his rhetoric about canceling it. New Mexico’s economy finally is showing signs of growth after several stagnant years, and Jerry Pacheco, chief executive with the Border Industrial Association, said he worries changes to NAFTA could stall that progress.
“NAFTA – it’s been just one of the bright spots in our state economy to be able to build that trade relationship with Mexico,” Pacheco said. “And New Mexico during the past five years has led the nation at points in terms of export growth and trade with Mexico.”
New Mexico’s unemployment rate of 6.7 percent is the highest in the country, but a new economic report said the state’s gross domestic product – a key economic indicator – grew by 2.8 percent in the first quarter of this year, the third-highest growth of any state.
Trump has blamed NAFTA for the loss of manufacturing jobs in America, but some economists say it also has created 2 million to 4 million other jobs. Pacheco said he wants lawmakers to improve, not eliminate, the 23-year-old agreement.
“Let’s take these lemons that Washington has given us and make lemonade,” he said. “Let’s go ahead and look at the agreement and see where it can be tightened up, where it can be improved and how we can increase trade between the United States, Mexico and Canada.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said at least 30,000 New Mexico jobs can be attributed to NAFTA.
“It seems like the White House has a very Eastern United States orientation, and they don’t understand how things work here in the Southwest and particularly with trade with Mexico,” Pacheco said.
He said he’s seen first hand in Santa Teresa how NAFTA has opened up New Mexico to the rest of the world. He worries radical changes to the agreement would reverse that.Like this story? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get more of our best original news.