Originally Published: December 1, 2016 6 a.m.
PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey heads to Mexico this Friday in hopes of improving trade even as the president-elect seeks to rewrite the rules.
The governor on Monday acknowledged the campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump, who was critical of the various trade agreements the United States has with other countries.
During one debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump blasted her husband for approving the North American Free Trade Agreement when he was president.
Trump called that “the single worst trade deal ever approved in this country.” And he has specifically said he would “entirely renegotiate” the 1994 pact – or “terminate it.”
Ducey, however, said he is not focusing on that but instead is concentrating on what he can do here.
“Mexico’s our No. 1 trading partner, times four, for the state of Arizona,” the governor said. “We’ve built that relationship.”
But much of that cross-border business could disappear if NAFTA and its free-trade principles go away. That could lead to new tariffs on Mexican goods being shipped to the United States and similar duties slapped on Arizona products headed south.
“It sounds like a hypothetical,” Ducey said in brushing aside questions of the effect of scrapping NAFTA on Arizona businesses. And he said that the Donald Trump who ran for president may not be the same one who takes office on Jan. 20.
“I haven’t heard a lot of that talk since the election,” he said.
Still, Ducey conceded that Trump’s contention that free trade has cost American jobs resonated with many voters.
“I think the idea of free and fair trade is a real issue,” the governor said.
“The people have spoken on this,” he continued. “And if there’s a way to improve on that, then we can look at those issues.”
But Ducey downplayed the idea that Trump will undo the entire agreement once he takes office.
“That’s not something that’s done unilaterally or by one person,” he said, while acknowledging “the president-elect has a leadership position on that.”
The blame on Bill Clinton is somewhat misplaced.
It was Republican George H.W. Bush who negotiated the treaty and signed in in December 1992 shortly before leaving office.
Clinton, who inherited NAFTA, put in some side agreements on environmental and labor issues and pushed the issue through Congress, backed by about half the Democrats but most of the Republican there.
Ducey said that whatever happens with NAFTA, Trump’s election could still be good for Arizona.
“I think we have an example of someone who understands that reducing regulations, that putting power back to the states, can help grow our economy,” the governor said. “So I’m very hopeful for what’s next.”
The Friday event in Hermosillo, Sonora, is the annual winter meeting of the Arizona-Mexico Commission which involves a series of meetings between government and business leaders from both states.
The commission has been focused on creating a “megaregion” to market the opportunities in both Arizona and Sonora, including available labor, to companies seeking to relocate. And that can involve selling firms on the ability to move raw materials and finished products across the border.