Florida Trade Leaders Not Ready to Scrap NAFTA

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News Service of FloridaMIRAMAR BEACH, November 30, 2016………. Some people involved with Florida’s international trade efforts hope President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign threat to ditch the North American Free Trade Agreement is mostly bluster.

Trump repeatedly decried the 22-year-old agreement on the campaign trail as the “worst trade deal in history” and said he would walk away from the package unless Mexico and Canada give the U.S. better terms.

However, Manny Mencia, senior vice president of international trade and development for the public-private Enterprise Florida, expressed hope this week that Trump will look at the overall package and maybe only consider “tweaking” parts of NAFTA.

“Hopefully, wiser heads will prevail, and all will realize that the North American Free Trade Agreement is a good deal across the board,” Mencia said when asked about the possible future of the trade pact during the agency’s trade committee meeting Tuesday at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa. “If you were to take oil out of the equation, the U.S. has an extremely well-balanced trade relationship with Mexico.”

After attending the same meeting, Doug Wheeler, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council, said “less barrier to trade is good for ports.”

“We certainly are willing to listen to some revisions or changes, if that’s possible, but the talk of ‘we’re ditching that,’ that’s concerning,” Wheeler said.

The Ports Council, the Tallahassee-based lobbying arm for the state’s 15 seaports, has also come out in support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is aimed at establishing a free-trade area from Japan to Chile and was targeted by Trump during campaign stops.

In a video released Nov. 21, Trump promised to withdraw from the TPP trade deal he called a “potential disaster.”

“On trade, I am going to issue our notification of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential disaster for our country,” Trump said. “Instead, we will negotiate fair, bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back onto American shores.”

The video did not address the president-elect’s plans for NAFTA.

The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday about NAFTA.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump supporter who chairs the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors, said Wednesday he hasn’t talked to the president-elect about NAFTA but supports what Trump has proposed.

“I think he’s right,” Scott said. “We want to do trade, but it has to be fair.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said it’s probably too late to undo damage to Florida growers that resulted from the trade deal.

“It’s no secret how devastating NAFTA’s been to Florida agriculture,” Putnam said Wednesday. “The entire tomato industry has realigned and very much is a shadow of its former self.”

Putnam said the most helpful thing Trump could do is enforce protections in the trade agreement that were supposed to keep American producers from being undercut through measures such as product dumping and currency manipulation.

“Prior administrations just didn’t enforce the letter of the treaty to begin with,” Putnam said. “Gosh, just that alone would be a step in the right direction.”

The discussion about NAFTA came as Florida is trying to increase its international trade. Mexico plays a big part in those efforts.

After a trade mission earlier this year to Mexico, the Ports Council intends to host Mexican port and trade officials early next year in hopes of further expanding trade.

A summit is being planning for mid-February in Orlando, Wheeler said.

“The idea is to continue to build on some of the momentum that was built from the first event, but also a real focus on an all-water trade route,” Wheeler said. “A lot is going by truck, crosses Texas, crosses I-10 into Florida. There’s a lot that points to the fact that there could be a real cost savings.”

In May, Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private business-recruitment agency led a four-day mission to Mexico City that included 92 business leaders and officials.

In announcing the trip, Enterprise Florida noted that NAFTA has increased bilateral trade between Mexico and the U.S. by more than 500 percent, with Florida goods that are “ideal for trade including: automotive parts, aviation parts, education services, IT services, medical devices, telecommunications equipment, security services and equipment for transportation.”

During the mission, Florida ports signed a memorandum of understanding with Mexico Gulf Coast ports, striking an alliance to increase water trade and traffic.

“We have several ports now doing either expanded trade with Mexico, or new trade routes,” Wheeler said. Port “Manatee has some trade now. (Port) Canaveral has a little bit working now. (Port) Tampa (Bay) is going after some business with Mexico.”

Mexico ranks 10th among Florida’s trading partners. Florida exported more than $1.6 billion in goods to Mexico in 2015.