Jun 6, 2022
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The North American Free Trade Agreement (Spanish: Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte, TLCAN; French: Accord de libre-échange nord-américain, ALÉNA) was an agreement signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States that created a trilateral trade bloc in North America. The agreement came into force on January 1, 1994, and superseded the 1988 Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement between the United States and Canada. The NAFTA trade bloc formed one of the largest trade blocs in the world by gross domestic product.
The impetus for a North American free trade zone began with U.S. president Ronald Reagan, who made the idea part of his 1980 presidential campaign. After the signing of the Canada–United States Free Trade Agreement in 1988, the administrations of U.S. president George H. W. Bush, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, and Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney agreed to negotiate what became NAFTA. Each submitted the agreement for ratification in their respective capitals in December 1992, but NAFTA faced significant opposition in both the United States and Canada. All three countries ratified NAFTA in 1993 after the addition of two side agreements, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC).
Passage of NAFTA resulted in the elimination or reduction of barriers to trade and investment between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The effects of the agreement regarding issues such as employment, the environment, and economic growth have been the subject of political disputes. Most economic analyses indicated that NAFTA was beneficial to the North American economies and the average citizen, but harmed a small minority of workers in industries exposed to trade competition. Economists held that withdrawing from NAFTA or renegotiating NAFTA in a way that reestablished trade barriers would have adversely affected the U.S. economy and cost jobs. However, Mexico would have been much more severely affected by job loss and reduction of economic growth in both the short term and long term.
After U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, he sought to replace NAFTA with a new agreement, beginning negotiations with Canada and Mexico. In September 2018, the United States, Mexico, and Canada reached an agreement to replace NAFTA with the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), and all three countries had ratified it by March 2020. NAFTA remained in force until USMCA was implemented. In April 2020, Canada and Mexico notified the U.S. that they were ready to implement the agreement. The USMCA took effect on July 1, 2020, replacing NAFTA. The new law involved only small changes.
In a 60 Minutes interview in September 2015, 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump called NAFTA “the single worst trade deal ever approved in [the United States]”, and said that if elected, he would “either renegotiate it, or we will break it”. Juan Pablo Castañón, president of the trade group Consejo Coordinador Empresarial, expressed concern about renegotiation and the willingness to focus on the car industry. A range of trade experts said that pulling out of NAFTA would have a range of unintended consequences for the United States, including reduced access to its biggest export markets, a reduction in economic growth, and higher prices for gasoline, cars, fruits, and vegetables. Members of the private initiative in Mexico noted that to eliminate NAFTA, many laws must be adapted by the U.S. Congress. The move would also eventually result in legal complaints by the World Trade Organization. The Washington Post noted that a Congressional Research Service review of academic literature concluded that the “net overall effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy appears to have been relatively modest, primarily because trade with Canada and Mexico accounts for a small percentage of U.S. GDP”.
Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, called it “a continuation of other disastrous trade agreements, like NAFTA, CAFTA, and permanent normal trade relations with China”. He believes that free trade agreements have caused a loss of American jobs and depressed American wages. Sanders said that America needs to rebuild its manufacturing base using American factories for well-paying jobs for American labor rather than outsourcing to China and elsewhere.
The American public was largely divided on its view of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with a wide partisan gap in beliefs. In a February 2018 Gallup Poll, 48% of Americans said NAFTA was good for the U.S., while 46% said it was bad.
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