MSU holds NAFTA panel

Staff Writer

George W. Bush Institute Director of Economic Growth Matthew Rooney gave a lecture on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Wednesday at Mississippi State University.

The lecture was titled "Avoiding a Neo-Medieval Era: NAFTA, Globalization and American Leadership."

The lecture centered on the goals NAFTA set out to accomplish and the current state of the agreement amid emerging isolationist political philosophies.

A panel discussion followed Rooney’s lecture featuring MSU agricultural economics professors Josh Maples and Lurleen Walters, history professor Richard Damms and political science professor Brian Shoup. Political science professor Vasbijt Banerjee served as moderator.

Rooney began his discussion at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union.

“Not literally on that day, but in the ensuing less than 10 years, 3 billion people, China, India, the former Soviet Union, big parts of Africa, big parts of Latin America, 3 billion people came barging onto our economy and said ‘I want to compete,'” Rooney said. “At that point, it was clear that there was going to be a fundamental change in the economic structure of the United States, the economic structure of the entire western world.”

Rooney laid out the three main objectives of NAFTA when it was passed in 1989: eliminating tariffs among the U.S., Canada and Mexico, offering Mexico a path to industrialization and organizing the global economy.

He said the agreement was not perfect, but does its job. Reform of NAFTA is currently underway as of Aug. 16, with a completion deadline of the end of the year.

“We have to keep in mind that thanks to NAFTA, we wrote the rules of the international economy, and there’s something wrong if you can’t win at a game where you wrote the rules,” Rooney said.

Maples discussed the positive impact NAFTA has had on agriculture.

“One third of U.S. ag commodities end up in Canada or Mexico,” Maples said. “So, a huge trading partner for us, very important for our industries.”

Maples said despite an agricultural trade deficit, the U.S. ag trade continued to grow.

“You’ll see increases in most ag commodities, increased quantities going to Canada and similarly Mexico,” Maples said. “We’re talking about $25 billion worth of exports to each country, over $50 billion of agricultural exports. Again, this represents about a third of our U.S commodity exports."

Shoup said much of the animosity towards NAFTA from both sides of the political spectrum was misguided, with the agreement being blamed for issues it is not related to. He attributed much of the unemployment issues to modernization, reducing the number of people needed for operations.

“One of the things that I think is up for debate, and it has not been addressed very well by either of our political parties in the United States, and I can send this to other countries as well, has been dealing with the problem of the externalities that come from economic innovation and trade,” Shoup said.

Damms discussed the history of U.S. and Mexico’s relationship leading up to NAFTA, and Walters discussed some of the unintended effects of the agreement regarding migrant workers and foreign labor.

The discussion was hosted by the MSU International Institute and MSU College of Arts and Sciences.