Q&A: Texas border towns hope NAFTA can be saved, revamped

WASHINGTON — Will the United States pull out of the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico? Negotiators are working to rewrite the pact that President Donald Trump has called a job-killing “disaster.” They met recently in Mexico City but couldn’t reach a deal amid fears that Trump will withdraw from the agreement. Trump has also complicated matters by threatening to tax Mexican and Canadian steel and aluminum if he can’t get the NAFTA deal he wants. The Associated Press spoke with Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, who represents a south Texas district that has a big stake in strong trade ties to Mexico. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Q: How does NAFTA affect your district?

A: I represent 29 counties from San Antonio to El Paso: two time zones, 820 miles of the border with Mexico. It takes 10 hours to drive across my district at 80 miles an hour. It’s the size of Georgia. Border trade is important. NAFTA is important. You have manufacturing on both sides of the border. You have people who live on the U.S. side and work in Mexico. The amount of trade that traverses the land ports in my district is significant, and that has an impact on the local economy. Texas’ No. 1 trading partner is Mexico. So those relationships are important.

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Q: Do people in your district want to keep NAFTA?

A: One hundred per cent. There’s no bigger issue right now in my district because of the impact on our economy and our jobs.

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Q: What are the prospects that U.S., Canadian and Mexican negotiators can reach a deal on a new NAFTA?

A: I was in Mexico City. I had the chance to meet with negotiators from all three countries. They all believe we are close to a deal. They’re working on some of the sticky issues and having a conversation around the sticky issues.

The reality is … We don’t have much time. The Mexican presidential elections will start getting into high gear starting late March, April. You have the midterm elections in the United States, where Congress shuts down. I think this administration is realizing the importance of NAFTA and that how pulling out could potentially impact the markets and, with the volatility that we’re seeing with the markets right now, that another shock to that system is unnecessary.

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Q: Why do you think NAFTA has such a bad reputation with the American public in general?

A: We have taken for granted the importance of international trade and how it helps our economy. For example, 17 per cent of the beer that is consumed in the United States of America comes from Piedras Negras (Mexico). This is a city on the other side of Eagle Pass (Texas), which is in my district. We have to remember that imports and exports create jobs in the United States.

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