Trump NAFTA

In this Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 photo, a truck travels on an overpass towards the World Trade Bridge, in Laredo, Texas. Donald Trump’s campaign promise to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement helped win over Rust Belt voters who felt left behind by globalization. But the idea is unnerving to many people in cities on the U.S.-Mexico border. Communities such as Laredo and El Paso in Texas or Nogales in Arizona have boomed under the 1994 treaty. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) ORG XMIT: TXEG212

Eric Gay

While President Donald Trump has been a general critic of trade deals, saying they have been bad for this country, a lot of those comments have been accompanied by reassurances that the new administration would not move precipitously. But if personnel picks tell us anything, it's that Louisiana's trade future is in trouble. That ought to worry Louisiana when it comes to international trade, our ports and transportation system and our export industries.

As part of a series of meetings with Mexico and Canada, Trump's top U.S. trade negotiator says that the United States won't settle for cosmetic changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Rather, Robert Lighthizer seems to want this country's negotiating attitude to be that of an enemy of our neighbors, not an ally and friend.

In campaign rhetoric, Trump has called the 23-year-old trade pact the "worst" in history. As trade rep, Lighthizer has dismissed the goals of the new talks as " mere tweaking of a few provisions and an updating of a few chapters." Instead, he said, "NAFTA has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement."

We disagree. Obviously, trade has good and bad effects for the various countries involved in it. Louisiana has seen jobs lost as a consequence not only of NAFTA but other trade agreements that made the old cut-and-sew jobs disappear. That is a bad consequence for those workers, even if all consumers may benefit from cheaper clothing in stores.

The Canadian and Mexican negotiators defend NAFTA as an economic success story but acknowledged it needs to be updated to reflect economic and technological changes. That's a reasonable enough concession, but Lighthizer is not only indifferent to the benefits to this country but is in a hurry to throw the trade baby out with the bath water.

There's something else that we ought to bear in mind about negotiations: You can get it right, or you can get it fast.

Rushing through the complexities of a new trade deal is simply not possible. Just look at the industries that would be affected, like the automobile manufacturers with their international supply chains for plants in this country, or Mexico or Canada.

Overall, NAFTA trade contributes a quarter to a third of trade value for this country, wealth for our ports and cheaper products for our people at the stores. Farmers are also in the international trade business, as vast amounts of food and fiber produced in this country are sold to Canada, Mexico and China as well.

The ports along the Mississippi and Calcasieu rivers in Louisiana are exporters of farm products and petrochemicals, among many other things.

We urge Lighthizer to come to Louisiana to listen to the trade businesses firsthand.