One of the most closely watched political issues in the business world today is the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It seems like only yesterday I was in college writing a paper on the merits of the arguments for and against the newly proposed NAFTA. That’s a lie, it feels like centuries ago. The internet was not yet available to the public so I had to do all of my research using microfiche and printed volumes of the Congressional Record. What primitive times we lived in!
Nearly 25 years later, many of the same debates that surrounded the initial approval of NAFTA are at the center of negotiations between the United States, Canada, and Mexico on the continuation of the agreement for another five year period. Wisconsin politicians on both sides of the aisle have written open letters or made public comments asking for particular reforms to NAFTA, but what you have not heard from them are calls for withdrawing from the agreement similar to the threats made by President Trump. The reality is that no matter how flawed NAFTA may be, free trade with Canada and Mexico is vital to economic well-being of Wisconsin.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks Wisconsin second among states that would be most negatively impacted by a withdrawal from NAFTA (trailing only Michigan and their auto industry). It is no wonder, as 45% of all exports from Wisconsin ($9.6 billion) are bound for Canada and Mexico. According to the Business Roundtable, an estimated 250,000 Wisconsin jobs depend upon trade with Canada and Mexico. If the United States withdrawals from NAFTA, the Wisconsin dairy industry would be particularly hard hit as Mexico is the top importer of Wisconsin dairy products. The European Union would be quick to fill the void left by the Wisconsin dairy industry as a new EU-Mexico trade pact will soon guarantee European cheese makers duty-free access to Mexico.
A withdrawal from NAFTA would have a negative effect on one of the largest employment sectors in Hudson, transportation and warehousing. Interstates 35, 94, and 29 are viewed as the corridors most vital to free trade in North America. Hudson has emerged as a significant distribution hub in no small part to its proximity to two of these interstates. The absence of free trade along those interstates would deny Hudson the strategic advantage our geographic location currently provides.
I serve as chair-elect of the Mid-America Chamber Executives (MACE), an organization representing chamber professionals in six states in the upper-Midwest. MACE will soon issue our own open letter supporting the continuation of NAFTA. I encourage you, our partners in the business sector to let your voices be heard on NAFTA before we walk away from an agreement that opens many doors for our state and local economies.