Portman warns Trump: killing NAFTA will kill jobs in Ohio

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

With President Donald Trump threatening to scrap a trade deal with Canada and Mexico, Sen. Rob Portman Tuesday said it would be “a mistake” to terminate a pact that allows manufactured goods and agriculture products to cross the borders of those countries largely free of tariffs.

In a conference call with Ohio reporters Tuesday, Portman said killing the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement “would have a negative impact on auto workers, farmers and service providers in Ohio,” adding “we should improve the agreement,” not scrap it.

“Most of our exports from Ohio go to Canada and Mexico,” said Portman, who served as U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush.

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As trade negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico gathered Tuesday in Montreal for a key round of talks on whether to renew NAFTA, Trump told reporters that the talks were going “pretty well.”

But in an interview last week with Reuters, Trump said he may “terminate NAFTA.”

The agreement has long provoked intense opposition from organized labor, which contends the lure of cheap labor in Mexico encouraged American manufacturers to shift production there and cost tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.

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Trump’s tough anti-NAFTA stance resonated with blue-collar workers in the key manufacturing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Trump’s victories in those four states allowed him to capture the presidency in 2016.

The Business Roundtable, an organization in Washington that represents many of the nation’s largest companies, warned that scrapping NAFTA would cost 1.8 million jobs in the United States.

In particular, the major automakers claim they would be badly hurt because NAFTA essentially integrated the North American automotive market.

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According to the Ohio Department of Development, Ohio companies and farmers exported $49 billion worth of goods in 2016 to Canada and Mexico, a slight dip from 2015. The state will release the 2017 statistics next month.

Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, both approved of Trump’s decision Monday to slap tariffs on imports of washing machines from South Korea, a move designed to help Whirlpool’s production facility in Clyde, Ohio.

Portman said he backed the tariffs because if “other countries are not following the rules of trade, they have to be held accountable.”

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