Panel discusses NAFTA and its relationship to Wyoming
Casper – On May 2, the Wyoming Business Alliance hosted a panel discussion titled, “NAFTA: The Pros, Cons and Impacts to Wyoming Today and Tomorrow,” to bring Wyoming business leaders together to explore ramifications on the state’s economy.
The event brought Canadian Consul General Stephane Lessard, Thermopolis rancher Jim Wilson and Puma Steel’s Rex Lewis together to understand the challenges and advantages of the trade agreement.
“NAFTA has been extremely beneficial to Canada and the U.S., including Wyoming,” Lessard commented. “In respect to Canada and the U.S., trade has grown significantly.”
In 2017, trade between the U.S. and Canada hit nearly $1 trillion, creating wealth for both countries.
“Our economies are highly integrated,” he added. “Energy, manufacturing, services, so on and so forth, are deeply integrated, and NAFTA has contributed to that.”
Lessard further cited Canada supplies crude oil to the U.S. among other energy products, as an example.
“More trade and more investment between countries means more jobs, and it also means more choice for consumers and, I would argue, more freedom for businesses,” Lessard said, noting the absence of such an agreement would lead to more tariffs, a loss of jobs and a loss of prosperity.
“If we don’t have NAFTA, meaning, if negotiations break down and it doesn’t work because there are really tough issues that have been left to the very end, many things change,” Lessard continued. “We may have a deal, but we may not.”
Tough issues, including rules of origin in auto making and other industries, remain to be resolved.
“If we don’t have NAFTA, then the World Trade Organization rules on most favored nations begin,” he explained. “There are sectors like meat products, petroleum products, plaster products, motor vehicle parts and railway track manufacturing and generally agriculture that would be significantly impacted.”
The result would be the disruption of integrated supply chains, which would have economic consequences, including lost jobs and lost economic productivity, said Lessard.
While Wilson noted the importance of NAFTA, he also said that free trade is not the same as fair trade.
“NAFTA has been going well, but it needs an update,” Wilson said. “President Trump and his negotiators see the need for fair trade on both sides.”
He continued, in the ag industry, because the majority of livestock leave Wyoming to be fed and slaughtered, the ability to export is important. He further noted the agriculture industry doesn’t have the option to choose what price its product is sold at because of the perishable nature of beef and other ag commodities.
“Wyoming is one of the best sources of protein in the world that there is,” he continued, noting both hay and beef are also the highest quality. “In the U.S., we can produce and we do produce more beef than we can consume in the United States. We need to export because the supply is greater than demand.”
Further, Wilson said not knowing what the supply and demand will be adds uncertainty to the market.
“American agriculture can feed the world if we get paid for it,” Wilson commented. “My greatest fear is that if we don’t make agriculture profitable for all aspects of farming and ranching, the next generation will be unable to financially stay in agriculture.”
“We need to all get together to negotiate a fair trade agreement for the American producer,” he added.
Lessard said Canada’s top priorities in NAFTA include successful conclusion of NAFTA negotiations, with mutually beneficially solutions for steel, aluminum and uncoated groundwood paper, among other commodities.
“We want a successful conclusion to NAFTA discussions,” he said. “Can we do that in the timeframe the U.S. administration wants? I hope so.”
Additionally Lessard cited a permanent exemption for steel and aluminum tariffs, as well as tariff reduction for uncoated groundwood paper.
Uncoated groundwood paper, which supplies newsprint, is a priority for Canada in NAFTA. The newsprint, which is the source of paper for many local newspapers, including the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.
“One mill applied for this tariff on paper, and the tariff affects far more jobs than the 50 or 100 at this mill,” Lessard said. “Often protectionist measures such as this have good intentions, but the real impacts are staggering.”
“Canada will not just accept any deal, though,” Lessard emphasized. “A trade agreement, just like any business deal, has to be win-win. We’re confident that we’ll get there.”
Lessard and Wilson noted the U.S. and Canada are both trading nations, and even without NAFTA, trade between the two countries would likely continue, but Wilson mentioned the close relationship between the two countries is important.
“Canada and the U.S. think alike,” Wilson said. “Wyomingites identify more with our neighbors to the north than our fellow citizens on the East Coast. Despite the imaginary line between our countries, it’s natural to work together.”
Wilson further emphasized, while we are all negotiators, we have to have America’s best interests at top of mind.
“We trade genetics, we trade ideas, and we trade products,” he commented. “I’m willing to pay a little bit to get a little bit, but we have to be for America. Let’s work towards that.”
Lessard concluded, “We’re confident the prosperity we have created together will continue. We have a lot at stake. We built this continent together. We defend it together and we’ll continue to prosper together.”
NAFTA: The Pros, Cons and Impacts to Wyoming Today and Tomorrow was sponsored by Spectrum Enterprise, ExxonMobil and XTO Energy.
Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.