The Benefits of NAFTA on U.S. Trade

Americans export and import over $3.8 trillion of products a year with their trading partners around the world. The positive economic benefits of trading are well documented in every industry. Consumers have more choices at lower prices while producers are able to specialize on their comparative advantages to make products better and cheaper. Low prices mean low inflation which translates in accommodative monetary policy. With low interest rates, consumers and businesses are able to borrow at lower costs. Overall, open trade promotes economic growth.

 The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trilateral trade bloc, is no exception. U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico accounted for 33% of U.S. total exports (averaging nearly $517 billion a year) while U.S. imports from Canada and Mexico accounted for 27% of U.S. total imports (averaging over $606 billion a year). NAFTA provides American consumers with more choices at lower prices as Americans export and import goods of the same industry. For example, the U.S. motor vehicle industry is among the top five export industries to Canada and Mexico and is also among the top five import industries from Canada and Mexico, accounting for 42% of U.S. total motor vehicle exports and 49% of U.S. total motor vehicle imports, respectively. The motor vehicle part industry and oil and gas industry are examples of producers specializing in their comparative advantages along the supply chain within NAFTA. Americans export auto parts and import auto vehicles from Canada and Mexico (77% of U.S. total exports of auto parts); similarly, Americans import raw oil and gas and export petroleum and coal products to Canada and Mexico (30% of U.S. exports of total petroleum and coal products).

 The trading patterns confirm NAFTA benefits both American consumers and producers. NAFTA is vital to the U.S. economy and American consumers. NAFTA drives U.S. trade and economic growth.

Nam Pham is Managing Partner at ndp | analytics.

Americans Need to Export More and Not Less

It is unclear what free trade opponents are against in the current trade debate. Is it about Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), or something that has nothing to do with free trade? Contrary to claims that trade agreements have been big failures and disastrous to American workers and the U.S. economy, the numbers decisively tell a success story. The U.S. needs to export more and not less.

Since its first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Israel in 1985, the United States has implemented 14 preferential trade agreements with 20 countries located in the Americas, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Nearly half of U.S. merchandise exports went to these FTA partner countries. While having more than $524 billion trade deficits in manufactured goods in 2014, the U.S. enjoyed a $55 billion trade surplus in manufactured goods with FTA partners.

We applied trade data to estimate the impacts of FTAs on U.S. exports over the past 30 years. Our analysis indicates that FTAs spurred more than $41.9 billion and 7.3% of U.S. manufacturing exports to FTA partners. As expected, our analysis shows that Americans export intellectual property (IP)-intensive products such as pharmaceuticals, computer and electronic products, transportation equipment, chemical products, and medical devices; all areas where Americans have comparative advantages in the global markets. We also found that FTAs spurred over $34.2 billion in exports from IP-intensive industries, or 10.9% of IP-intensive exports. In comparison, exports of non-IP-intensive industries grew by approximately $7.7 billion, or 3.0% of U.S. exports, to those FTA partner countries.

By reducing and eliminating tariffs and non-tariff barriers, trade agreements have boosted exports which consequently raised outputs, employment, and wages in the exporting countries. Our analysis show that IP-intensive manufacturing industries added more jobs during the most recent economic recovery period while non-IP-intensive manufacturing industries cut more jobs during the economic downturn. While IP-intensive manufacturing industries employ nearly 30% of American manufacturing workers, they account for nearly 50% of gross output (total sales) of manufacturing industries. IP-intensive manufacturing industries pay 50% higher wages than non-IP-intensive manufacturing industries (approximately $60,000 compared to $40,000 per employee annually).

All in all, the numbers are favorable for U.S. trade agreements. Although U.S. exports have increased substantially in the past 30 years since its first trade agreement with Israel, the share of U.S. merchandise exports has declined from 11.2% to 8.6% of world exports as world exports have increased more than ten times. With the rapid increase in global economic integration, it makes perfect sense that American leaders are in search for FTA partners.