Texas Republicans and Democrats are unified, thanks to President Donald Trump—they’re collectively terrified of his plans for North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA and has threatened to abandon the agreement all together if Canada and Mexico don’t agree to his parameters.
Both of Texas’s Republican senators, its GOP governor, and many of its Democratic lawmakers in Washington are begging the president not to abandon the deal, which directly impacts thousands of jobs in their state.
Texas is Mexico’s biggest trading partner, and about 40 percent of the state’s annual exports go to Mexico, according to the Texas-Mexico Trade Coalition, which represents 4,000 businesses that want to keep the deal intact.
That group estimates roughly 400,000 Texas jobs, many in agriculture and manufacturing industries, depend on NAFTA. The Business Roundtable estimates 1 million Texas jobs are tied to the agreement.
“NAFTA is a benefit to Texas. If you’re pro-Texas, you have to have the stance that I’m taking, which is that it can be made better but I don’t think you want to do away with it,” Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, told the Star-Telegram Tuesday.
Republicans have long supported free trade, well before Trump became president. Texas’s two GOP senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both signed a letter with 33 of their GOP Senate colleagues Tuesday outlining a “way forward” on NAFTA for Trump without abandoning the deal.
Nationally, the Democratic Party platform condemns trade deals that have “not lived up to the hype.” But many of Texas’s Democrats in Congress have teamed up with GOP colleagues in pushing Trump to keep NAFTA in place.
“It could be a different story other places, but for the state we represent, Texas has benefited a lot,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.
Jeff Moseley, CEO of Texas Association of Business, which has lobbied heavily on the issue, praised the “entire” Texas delegation Tuesday, both Republicans and Democrats, for being “diligent in their efforts to promote the tremendous benefits of NAFTA” on the Texas economy.
Each party’s lawmakers would like to see different changes made to the agreement, but the threat of losing NAFTA altogether has commanded the attention of Texas lawmakers from both parties.
In recent weeks, Trump has backed off his most aggressive rhetoric about leaving the deal.
Without mentioning NAFTA specifically, Trump said in his State of the Union address Tuesday that America had “finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals.”
“From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and very important, reciprocal,” said Trump. “We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones and they’ll be good ones but they’ll be fair.”
Cornyn said Tuesday he’s “optimistic” the White House was listening to Texans on NAFTA, and “increasingly confident we’ll get to a good place.”
Williams, asked whether he was confident Trump wouldn’t rip up NAFTA, said he was “not a betting man,” but Trump has “really been good about listening to all of us.”
Democrats working to keep the deal say that confidence is a bluff.
“I haven’t heard many of them be very vocal about it, but my sense is that they are [frustrated] and many of them hope that it’s successfully renegotiated,” said Castro.
The San Antonio congressman is one of a handful of Texas Democrats crossing some members of his own party to support the deal.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, who is challenging Cruz for the Senate this year, has met with trade negotiators and been an outspoken NAFTA proponent.
Castro said, “It’s fair after a generation to take a fresh look at the trade agreement… but at the same time, acknowledge the benefits of it, especially for a state like Texas.”
In it, he called NAFTA an “incredible boon for all of Texas,” and said it is “important no to attempt to fix the parts of the agreement that are not broken.”
Texas has a handful of NAFTA-specific interest groups working on the issue from either side of the ideological spectrum.
The Texas-Mexico Trade Coalition, formed in June by Texas businesses specifically to work on NAFTA, has two lobbyists in Washington for their efforts.
Among progressives, the Texas Fair Trade Coalition is a group of unions and environmental groups that says NAFTA has failed to live up to its promises.
It wants the agreement to include additional environmental, labor rights and wage provisions, but wouldn’t rule out withdrawing from NAFTA if it remains as written.