Trade has been a major issue in 2016. Free trade has been blamed, defamed, and mostly made the scapegoat for America's economic woes.
In a fact-free political climate, it's easy to bash free trade. The American people are genuinely frustrated at the economy, and they have a right to be. Barack Obama's wishful thinking hasn't changed the harsh reality for most American workers. Wages are barely moving, underemployment remains high, and economic growth is still anemic, seven years after the great recession.
But channeling anger at free trade is like biting the hand that feeds you. Free trade agreements have meant big business and jobs for U.S. companies. In 2015, U.S. goods exported to free trade agreement (FTA) partners brought more than $700 billion to the American economy. And the most recent data says 97 percent of exporters are small and medium-sized businesses.
The often-maligned North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a classic example of analysis gone awry. Here are some facts from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce you don't often hear about NAFTA:
- Exports from U.S. service industries to Mexico and Canada tripled from 1993 to 2011
- U.S. agriculture exports rose by 258 percent to Canada and 408 percent to Mexico during the same period.
- About one-third of all U.S. merchandise exports are bought by those two countries.
- And, the jobs that Mexico has gained from NAFTA often depend on supplies from U.S. manufacturers. It's been estimated that about $36,000 is generated annually for every American factory worker through Mexican and Canadian purchases of U.S. goods.