Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump referenced his tearing up of NAFTA as a positive change of policy for border city voters who have long feared the effects of globalization on their local economies. Now that the end of NAFTA could, in fact, become reality, many residents and lawmakers living in border cities, such as Laredo, El Paso, and Nogales, have come forward in support of the 1994 treaty, citing examples of its positive effect on their booming economies.
Local officials in Laredo, Texas say roughly 1 in every 3 jobs benefits from international trade. Laredo, which is the nation’s busiest inland port, sees an average of 14,000 tractor-trailers cross the border daily; it is also the only city along the U.S.-Mexico border that the President-elect visited during his campaign. Although President-elect Trump’s assessment of NAFTA may have resonated with voters in the Midwest, who lost their jobs after several factories were moved to Mexican border cities following the passage of NAFTA, it did not have the same effect on the inhabitants of such border cities, who for years have witnessed their cities flourish under the precepts of the treaty.
The mayor of Laredo, Pete Saenz, described the border city as “NAFTA on wheels,” claiming that the backbone of the city is free trade across the border. Laredo is an exemplary city for viewing the effects of the trade treaty. Busy industrial parks show the pipeline for imported and exported goods. Just four years after NAFTA was signed by President Bill Clinton and approved by the then Republican-controlled Congress, the Census Bureau named Laredo the country’s second-fastest growing area.
Repealing or renegotiating the agreement could strike the Mexican economy, which remains the United States’ largest trading partner. American economists do not believe NAFTA has a major effect on the nation’s overall job market, nor has it had much of a lasting impact on these border cities’ internal economies. Although, walloping Mexico’s economy would have a tremendous effect on the many domestic jobs created through NAFTA. According to CNN Money, killing NAFTA would likely do just the opposite of bringing back jobs, instead costing the United States jobs that depend on free trade with Mexico. When costs in one country rise, as would happen with Mexico if NAFTA is killed, companies just move operations to the next cheapest country—if not Mexico, any Latin American or Asian nation could be a likely candidate.
Although trade tensions continue with both Northern and Southern neighbors, NAFTA has proven to have had a positive impact on previously declining economies. The trade treaty isn’t seamless, but it has shown positive effects on border cities like Laredo; and whether or not those communities will continue to thrive throughout the next presidential term is yet to be determined.