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Administration scrapping NAFTA could impact Idaho agriculture

History of NAFTA - three part series

Farming operations at Cottonwood.

Photo by Lorie Palmer
Farming operations at Cottonwood.


History of NAFTA: A three-part series

Idaho agriculture, which accounts for 20 percent of the total economic output in Idaho, could be in for changes as President Trump leans towards scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and as renegotiations continue between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

NAFTA is a free trade agreement that began in 1994 between the three largest economies in North America that, among other things, largely eliminates tariffs on goods and services traded across their borders.

Between 1993 and 2016, the value of agricultural exports to NAFTA partners has increased from $7 billion to $11 billion. That increase is important in Idaho, where $2.2 billion worth of agricultural products were exported internationally in 2014.

The idea to get rid of NAFTA struck a chord with voters during the presidential election in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states characterized as once having manufacturing as an instrumental part of their economies, and who had all voted for democratic presidents in the recent past before voting for Donald Trump in 2016.

This shift in support from one party to another is reflected in the history of NAFTA, which began in the Reagan administration.

Trade deals with Israel and Canada during the 1980s laid the groundwork for thinking in terms of international free trade in the United States.

Then, during the Bush Sr. administration in 1990, negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement between the United States and Mexico began. Canada joined the negotiations the following year in order to ensure that the United States would not be the only country in North America with tariff-free access to the whole continent.

The deal, which became NAFTA, was approved by Congress and signed by Bush, the Canadian prime minister and the Mexican president in December 1992.

Governor Bill Clinton, who seemed most likely to be the next president, said he would be willing to support NAFTA during his presidency if there were supplementary agreements that standardized environmental and labor regulations for the three countries.

These agreements would satisfy his democratic constituency, many of whom were wary of the deal’s potential to hurt American jobs and the environment.

However, this did not satisfy the Democrats in Congress, many of whom feared that ratifying NAFTA would lead to a loss of American jobs to Mexico, where labor was cheaper and environmental regulations were less strict.

After Mr. Clinton was elected president, he pushed Congress to ratify NAFTA. Congress narrowly voted in favor of ratification in November 1993, but with heavy opposition from Mr. Clinton’s own party in both the house and the senate.

NAFTA came into effect in 1994, the year after it was ratified in Congress, and NAFTA has continued, largely unchanged, until this year.

As the negotiations have continued, many involved with the agricultural industry have voiced their concerns regarding overhauling NAFTA. Many of these concerns are relevant to some of the top agricultural exports in Idaho, which will be discussed in the next installment.

Graham Zickefoose is a student at the University of Idaho’s School of Journalism and Mass Media, serving as an intern with the U of I McClure Center for Public Policy Research.


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