By JACK WEATHERLY
If the next international free-trade agreement matches the performance of two predecessors, Mississippi will be sitting pretty.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, which was signed by the United States, Canada and Mexico 22 years ago, has been “huge” for Mississippi, said Tracy Diez, executive director of the World Trade Center for Mississippi.
However, some states have suffered under NAFTA, she cautioned. The textiles industry, especially in North Carolina and South Carolina, was devastated by the pact, she said.
Canada remains Mississippi’s No. 1 trading partner. Mexico is No. 2.
Panama ranks third, thanks to a separate agreement signed with the United States in 2012.
The state had a $500 million trade surplus with Canada in 2014, the difference between $1.8 billion in exports and $1.3 billion between the two countries. according to the Canadian government. Plus, 65,900 jobs in the state depend on Canadian trade.
Louise Blais, Canadian consul general for a six-state region of which Mississippi is a part, recently made her second visit to the state in less than three months.
Blais was reluctant to say whether the latest proposed agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would drop tariffs among the United States and 11 other countries, would be joined by Canada.
The United States’ northern neighbor just had a national election in which the Liberal Party headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won.
Canada’s trade officials agreed to the pact in broad terms, but it must be vetted, ratified and, ultimately, cross Trudeau’s desk.
Some health professionals, Internet freedom proponents, environmentalists, organized labor, advocacy groups, and elected officials have criticized the treaty, primarily because of the secrecy of the negotiations and its scope.
The 12 nations – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam – represent about 40 percent of the global gross domestic product.
If there is any hesitation about the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Canadian government, the halls of Congress and elsewhere, there seems little doubt in U.S. business circles.
The Business Roundtable, composed of chief executives of major corporations in the United States, stated in an online position paper that “future economic growth and jobs for Mississippi and America increasingly depend on expanding U.S. trade and investment opportunities in the global marketplace.”
Among its findings, in 2013 figures:
» International trade, including exports and imports, supports 335,058 Mississippi jobs – more than one in five.
» These trade-related jobs grew 6.3 times faster than total employment from 2004 to 2013 and are at large and small companies and farms.
» Sixty percent of Mississippi’s exports, or $7.9 billion, went to FTA partners.
» Mississippi exports totaled $15.4 billion, 76 percent of which are from companies with fewer than 500 employees.
Blais made her first visit to the Nissan plant in Canton last month and also to suppliers that are near the plant.
Vari-Form is one of those suppliers. Based in Troy, Mich., it adapts structural parts for Nissan, among other customers.
The Nissan parts are manufactured at Vari-Form’s largest manufacturing facility, which is in Ontario, Canada, Blais explained.
Those parts are shipped to the Vari-Form shop at Canton, which customizes them for the Japanese automaker.
“So where does Canada and America begin and end there?” she said. “It’s tough to pin down, but it’s a success story.”
Diez, executive director of the World Trade Center, said that while exports obviously are the top priority, there is something to say for imports.
Nissan and Toyota’s assembly plant in Blue Springs combine to lead the state’s exports to Canada, amounting to $356 million in 2014.
By contrast, Mississippi imported vehicular parts from Canada valued at $64 million, according to data provided by Canada.
While the Nissan-Variform story is indicative of the contribution that imports can make to the local economy, “it’s almost taboo to talk about imports,” Diez said. “But, if you think about it, those imports create jobs as well.”
Blais said she has been “impressed. . .with the welcome I’ve received. Mississippi has come a long way with its advanced manufacturing. I’m very indebted to the Mississippi Economic Council, the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, the Mississippi Development Authority and to the World Trade Center in Jackson.”
She said the next meeting of SEUS-Canada, including provincial governors from Canada and governors of the six Southeastern states of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee, will be held in Nashville in May.
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