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Rallying Colorado’s business community for NAFTA, free trade

Author: Dan Njegomir - June 9, 2017 - Updated: June 9, 2017

iStock image / Tryaging

A leading voice of Colorado business statewide, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, pretty reliably leans Republican on most of its policy stances even as it tries to maintain good relations with both parties at the statehouse. But there’s one issue — international trade — that divides the GOP itself in the era of Donald Trump. And CACI seems to be doing its level best to influence that ongoing debate with input from the businesses that create most Colorado jobs.

The freshman Republican president’s heartburn over free trade, and standing trade agreements in particular, are well-established. Yet, the business world’s reliance on overseas markets has been a cornerstone of the GOP’s economic vision for generations.

Hence, a case of the jitters among business types following the president’s declaration last month he is renegotiating 1994’s landmark North American Free Trade Agreement. That’s the trilateral pact that opened up Canadian and Mexican markets to U.S. goods, including agriculture. Vice-versa, as well, of course. Colorado commerce has benefited, too.

Today, CACI’s weekly e-newsletter to its many members around Colorado included this message:

CACI is asking our members to add comments to the official request for comment from the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) who will be submitting recommendations to President Trump for areas of NAFTA to negotiate.  Because many CACI members and the Colorado economy rely on our trade partners in Canada and Mexico, we encourage you to share formal or informal comments with the USTR about why these trade relationships are essential to your business.

Diplomatic but clear enough; the business community is worried. This appears to be one area where business and the administration are at loggerheads, at least, for now.

Some Republicans in Congress — still wary of crossing their theoretical party leader for all the usual political reasons — nevertheless have spoken up for free trade as well. Last month, Colorado’s junior Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner voted against confirming Trump’s pick for U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, who is a longtime critic of free trade.

Gardner issued a statement contending Lighthizer’s policies, “could hurt Colorado’s farmers and ranchers.”

The administration had that one in the bag, though; Lighthizer was confirmed by overwhelming majorities of both parties despite Gardner’s vote. There’s no suggestion Gardner’s stance has hurt his standing with the president, with whom he votes most of the time.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is a blogger and opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.

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