NAFTA matters to Colorado — and the rest of the world

Author: Morgan Smith - April 9, 2018 - Updated: April 9, 2018

Morgan Smith
Morgan Smith

The presidential elections in Mexico on July 1 will be critical for the United States. Our two countries share a 1,950 miles border and bi-national relationships regarding trade, immigration and law enforcement and other issues are obviously critical.

This is especially true for Colorado which exports roughly $1 billion in Colorado products to Mexico each year. That plus another $1.36 billion to Canada ( U.S. Department of Commerce figures for 2016) make these two countries Colorado’s biggest markets. And these figures don’t include agricultural exports or the export  of services.

This Mexican presidential election could spell big trouble, however. The reason is Andrês Manuel López Obrador, better know as simply AMLO. A highly popular Mayor of Mexico from 2000 to 2005, he first ran for President in 2006, lost very narrowly to Felipe Calderón, the PAN ( National Action Party) candidate, claimed fraud, formed a shadow cabinet and blocked the center of Mexico City ( the Zócalo) for months afterwards, causing great economic damage to the poor who he claimed to be representing.

He lost again in 2012 to Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) party. Now he has formed a new party or movement, Morena ( the National Regeneration Movement) and has been consistently ahead in the polls, partly because he has been the best at taking advantage of Trump’s attacks on Mexico, whether it be immigration, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), border controls or simply insulting the current president and Mexicans in general.

AMLO is portrayed as a left-wing, anti-business, anti-American, Hugo Chavez-like nationalist. Whatever his “labels”, I saw him at a rally in El Paso last March and he is highly energetic and articulate and has a very clear and convincing plan for Mexico’s future. It will be very difficult for the other candidates to tear him down or beat him in debates.

If he is elected, however, do not expect him to respond meekly to US demands. He will make it tough for Colorado companies that might want to invest in or supply technology to Mexico’s energy sector, an initiative that Peña Nieto accomplished but AMLO opposes. He will be difficult in terms of cooperation on issues like law enforcement. And he could easily throw a wrench in the NAFTA negotiations and damage our ability not only to do business with Mexico but Canada as well.

One way to avoid giving him ammunition he can use to win – and to protect American jobs at the same time – is to stand up for NAFTA, the agreement that has not only led to outstanding exports figures like those of Colorado but has also increased US-Mexico relations on a number of other issues. For example, in a February 22, 2018, Wall Street Journal opinion piece, retired Admiral James G. Stavridis, the Dean of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts, pointed out that Mexico’s extradition of alleged criminals to the United States increased dramatically after the passage of NAFTA. (These law enforcement issues involve Colorado; if convicted, drug lord Joaquín “ El Chapo” Guzmán will probably spend the rest of his life in the federal “Super Max” in Florence, Colorado.)

In Colorado where I worked on trade issues for many years, Karen Gerwitz, President of the World Trade Center Denver and Jeff Wasden, President of the Colorado Business Roundtable have brought together business and community leaders to form Colorado Business Leaders for NAFTA. They have already contacted all the members of the Colorado delegation and are mounting an aggressive educational effort regarding the benefits of trade and the jobs that are created as a result. Living in New Mexico which is even more dependent on exports to Mexico, I am very jealous. We have no World Trade Center and no united business community to advocate for international issues.

More has to be done, however. With the resignation of Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic advisor and a rational voice on trade issues and the new prominence of anti-trade Peter Navarro, NAFTA will be under increasing pressure from the whims of our president. Colorado has to be fully engaged – the Congressional delegation, the major state-wide candidates and the Governor. NAFTA has been critical to Colorado’s economy and must be protected.

Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith served with Steve Hogan in the Colorado House of Representatives in the 1975 and 1976 sessions. He can be reached at Morgan-smith@comcast.net.