EDITORIAL: York businesses need NAFTA

York Dispatch

It's been nearly 25 years since the North America Free Trade Agreement lowered barriers to trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

At the time, NAFTA was both hailed for opening trade routes north and south of the border and maligned for sending manufacturing jobs outside the country.

And there's no doubt that that happened.

In the time since the agreement took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, York County has seen many manufacturing jobs leave.

Caterpillar closed its Springettsbury Township plant in 1996. Johnsons Controls has moved a number of jobs to facilities in Texas and northern Mexico. Many other smaller manufacturers have closed or moved.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during a phone conversation on Monday, Aug. 27, 2018 to announce the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

But something else happened over those 25 years. Businesses adjusted and evolved. Supply chains were created and business relationships were built.

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By 2017, York County exported $573 million in goods to Canada and Mexico, more than a quarter of the total $2.2 billion in exports from the county, according to the International Trade Administration, a bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce. 

"We as a nation have promoted free trade," said John Lloyd, president and CEO of MANTEC, noting that a global economy does not recognize political boundaries.

He said the U.S has established supply chains and depends on selling to Canada and Mexico, as well as to European and Asian countries.

But now President Donald Trump is determined to renegotiate NAFTA. At the end of August, the U.S. and Mexico reached a preliminary agreement that left out Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to a question about NAFTA during an armchair discussion with Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, at the Women in the World Summit in Toronto on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press via AP)

The U.S. and Canada have been in talks toward an agreement, but nothing has come of them so far except threats from Trump to tax vehicles made in Canada that come into the United States.

Indeed, Trump has had nothing but frowns and bluster for Canada since he was elected.

Which is concerning, because Canada is our biggest trading partner and closest ally. We share the world's longest undefended border with our neighbors to the north. And yet Trump seems determined to cut the country off at every opportunity.

But this move goes too far.

Leaving Canada out of a new trade agreement should never be considered an option. Businesses in both countries have spent 25 years learning to depend on each other and making plans that will make that interdependence grow.

“It would be a huge disruption to the industry and the way they’re doing business right now," said Tina Weyant, executive director of World Trade Center Harrisburg, a group that promotes international trade.

As the economy in the country and the county continues to evolve and grow, an unnecessary trade disruption is one thing that no one needs or wants. 

The hard part is convincing Trump and his negotiators of that.