AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Mexico’s consul general in Austin told Texas legislators Monday that they should speak loudly and often in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement, to safeguard the pact that has benefited their state more than any other.
Trade between Mexico and Texas generates nearly $2 billion annually, accounting for 6 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, Consul General Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez told the House International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.
Relations between the United States and Mexico have been strained by President Donald Trump’s plans to build a border wall and suggesting a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico to pay for it.
Trump has called NAFTA a “catastrophe” for U.S. jobs and companies, but Gonzalez said the idea that NAFTA has taken away jobs from the United States is a “misperception” and blamed job losses on automation and trade with other countries.
In a Feb. 22 report, the Congressional Research Service reached a similar conclusion, stating that “NAFTA did not cause the huge job losses feared by critics.”
Texas is the nation’s largest exporter of goods to Mexico, providing oil, electronics and agricultural products.
“If NAFTA were to collapse … if the integration between our two economies were to unravel, Texas’ economy would pay a very steep price,” Gonzalez said.
Since the agreement was signed in 1993, Gonzalez said, the value of trade between the United States and Mexico has grown six-fold, reaching $584 billion in 2015.
The consul general said there is room for improvement in energy, e-commerce and medical tourism, but that any renegotiations need to result in a win-win for both countries.
Mexico’s government in February kicked off a formal 90-day consultation process with the country’s business community that is required before negotiations on the agreement can begin in May.
Trump has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if the U.S. doesn’t “get a better deal” in the negotiations.
Gonzalez said Texans “should be extremely concerned” when they hear about plans to renegotiate NAFTA.
“There is simply too much at stake for Texas to remain at the sidelines,” Gonzalez said.
Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos said at the hearing that Mexico and Texas, which share 1,200 miles of border, have a “shared destiny.”
“It is so crucial that we continue to strengthen the ties that allow us to build mutual economic prosperity on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border,” Pablos said.
Many economic studies have reported that NAFTA has devastated Mexican farmers, to the benefit of more efficient U.S. agribusiness. The resulting lack of work in the Mexican countryside in turn spurred immigration to the United States.