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State's lawmakers, business leaders laud trade deal

by Frank E. Lockwood | December 11, 2019 at 4:11 a.m. | Updated December 11, 2019 at 4:11 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- Arkansas lawmakers and industry leaders say they're glad that the United States Mexico Canada Agreement is moving forward, predicting it will be good for workers and a boon for the nation.

The trade agreement "will reposition the United States as not only the largest economy in the world but as one of the best places to do business in the world," U.S. Rep. French Hill said in an interview.

"I think it's a big success, probably the biggest trade success in a quarter-century, and is a substantial accomplishment for President [Donald] Trump and his principal trade ambassador," the Republican from Little Rock said.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman said he's eager to review the revised text.

"I'm really pleased that it appears to be close to completion," the Republican from Rogers said in an interview. "This is something that's drug on far too long."

Trade disputes with the U.S.'s three largest trading partners have stifled growth, he said.

Economic experts predict new trade deals will be a catalyst, he said. "Once we get Mexico, Canada and China resolved, that could amount for as much as a 1% increase in our [gross domestic product]. So this is something that is very, very important," he said.

Tuesday's announcement has repercussions for Walmart Inc. as well.

"We applaud the hard work and diligence by [the U.S. trade representative] and leaders in Congress on the USMCA. We're reviewing the final details, but maintaining a strong North American economy and supply chain is important to us," a company spokesman said, using the abbreviation for the United States Mexico Canada Agreement.

Walmart has a major presence in all three countries.

"North America is core to Walmart's operations as a global company. We have more than 2,800 Walmart retail units in Mexico and Canada and those support nearly 430,000 jobs," the spokesman added.

"We are pleased the USMCA remains a trilateral agreement that preserves the free flow of goods and services in North America."

Other Arkansans were also glad to see bipartisan progress on the trade agreement.

"We think it's a terrific step and one that's long overdue," said Randy Zook, president and chief executive officer of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. "It's going to be a very strong economic stimulus for Arkansas. ... There'll be a lot of increased activity with Mexican and Canadian trading partners. That's a very good thing for Arkansas and for the country."

Arkansas Farm Bureau officials were also delighted by the progress.

"Just last week at our state convention, our delegates reiterated the importance of getting this trade agreement ratified as quickly as possible," Arkansas Farm Bureau President Rich Hillman said in a written statement. "Passage of USMCA will help stabilize the marketplace and will allow the United States to focus efforts on other important trade agreements around the world."

Canada was Arkansas' top export market, receiving Natural State goods valued at $1.2 billion in 2018. Mexico, which received $870 million in goods from Arkansas, was second, according to World Trade Center Arkansas.

In an interview, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman portrayed the trade agreement developments as long overdue.

"I think it will pass with large bipartisan support," the Republican from Hot Springs said. "It's good for the economy. It's good for Republicans and Democrats alike."

With the U.S. successfully completing trade deals with three of its four biggest trading partners -- Mexico, Canada and, previously, Japan, "I believe it gives us a much stronger negotiating position with China," he said. "I would hope it would bring the Chinese to the table to get those issues resolved."

In a written statement, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack said the trade agreement "provides a strong framework that will enhance market access, create jobs, and unleash new sources of opportunity," he said. "I look forward to voting to support the farmers, ranchers, businesses, and workers who move our economy."

In a tweet, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford portrayed the trade deal as the culmination of a 2016 campaign pledge.

"#USMCA will be one of the best improvements to an outdated trade deal that our country has ever seen," the Republican from Jonesboro wrote.

"The President made it a central component of his platform when he ran for office & he has delivered. Ag-producers and all Americans are thankful for his work. Let's vote!"

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said the Republican from Dardanelle is still reviewing the agreement.

The North American Free Trade Agreement has helped trade to flourish over the past quarter century, according to Melvin Torres, director of Western Hemisphere Trade, World Trade Center Arkansas.

"Exports from Arkansas to Canada and Mexico have consistently grown since 1994. The trend shown by the data for both NAFTA partners is that exports will continue to grow for Arkansas with updates to the USMCA," Torres said in a text message.

A Section on 12/11/2019

Print Headline: State's lawmakers, business leaders laud trade deal


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