When President Donald Trump declared he would be looking to renegotiate the United States’ longstanding joint trade agreement with Canada and Mexico — better known as the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA — in the spring of 2017, manufacturers both domestically and abroad expressed some concern over the upheaval of a regulatory framework that had become an essential part of the three nations’ economies.
Through the elimination of various tariffs, trade between the three nations exploded over the three decades since the accord took effect, more than tripling U.S. exports in that time while providing a modest boost to the nation’s gross domestic product.
But the agreement had its critics, with some arguing that the terms for the U.S. were unfavorable, leading to “low-wage competition, companies moving production to Mexico to lower costs, and a widening trade deficit,” according to the Council for Foreign Relations.
Before the end of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives is widely expected to pass its replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a slightly tweaked version of NAFTA offering a number of new, favorable conditions for U.S. businesses.
And if it passes, Wyoming’s business community hopes to be on the cutting edge of the deal.
Next week in Casper, the Wyoming Business Alliance will be hosting a panel focused on explaining the ins and outs of the terms of the new trade agreement, offering participants exclusive insights not only on how to best take advantage of the deal but also on how to recognize emerging business opportunities that it could create.
Speakers at the event include a laundry list of trade experts: representatives from both Canada and Mexico’s American Consulates in the Rocky Mountain West; Barbara Rasco, the dean of the University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources; Anne Alexander, UW’s associate vice provost of academic affairs; and Peter Murray, a commodities trader from Chicago.
The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Ramkota Hotel, with tickets ranging in price from $30 to $500 for a table sponsorship.
“This year more than ever there is an emphasis on timeliness, knowing these are very current and relevant discussions in Congress right now with the USMCA,” Wyoming Business Alliance president Cindy DeLancey said. “Being able to offer these kinds of learning and outreach opportunities for alliance members and the public is something we’re very excited about.”
Wyoming’s economic ties to Mexico and Canada are already quite substantial. As of 2017, Wyoming exported approximately $228 million in goods and services to the countries annually, with top exports including chemicals ($78.8 million annually), machinery ($53.9 million), minerals and ores ($27.2 million), non-metallic mineral products ($15.1 million) and oil and gas, ($10.3 million). The state also exports petroleum and coal, transportation products, pre-fabricated metal products, electronics and livestock, which raked in more than $3.5 million for Wyoming producers, to the countries, DeLancey said.
Under the new deal, DeLancey anticipates Wyoming producers will have even more opportunity, with provisions she believes will increase access to foreign markets for small businesses and facilitate improved digital trade relationships among the three nations.
“As the world is changing around us, I see this as an effort to try and streamline some of the agreement that maybe didn’t have some of the components needed to adapt to a changing economy,” she said.
The deal also provides something Wyoming businesses need in their efforts to build a diverse, resilient economy for the future: regulatory certainty. Ongoing trade wars with nations like China have affected farmers across the country, Wyoming included, and a lack of access to western ports for Wyoming’s coal producers has attracted the attention of state lawmakers looking to respond to the strife experienced by the state’s coal companies.
While DeLancey said that the certainty offered by the USMCA could be a boon for Wyoming businesses, she acknowledged the possibility that the deal could blow up at any point.
“That is certainly a reality,” she said. “We live in very uncertain times, and knowing that conversations are evolving, we’re very much in a watch-and-wait mode. That’s why I thought it was important to have a conversation about these issues with the business community for the chance to learn more and to know where we are right now. We’ll just have to wait and see how these things play out.”