Utah’s political leaders should continue to advocate for policies that allow for the free exchange of goods, ideas and services across international borders. This includes looking to fix the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) rather than scrapping the agreement that has governed trade and investment between Mexico, Canada and the United States for nearly two and a half decades.
This week, Gov. Gary Herbert and a cohort of Utah business leaders, including representatives from the Deseret News and the Deseret Management Corporation, completed a trade mission to Israel and Jordan. Meanwhile, from Saturday through Monday, the News also participated in the 73rd General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association, held in Salt Lake City.
For a landlocked state nestled amidst mountain ranges, Utah’s modest population of 3 million has an outsized international footprint. Apart from Utah’s historic legacy as the destination for overseas immigrants and its practice of sending members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as missionaries throughout the world, in recent decades, global commerce, tourism and trade have become central to the state’s economic success.
Utah has consistently outpaced its more populous neighbor, Colorado, in exports ($12 billion in Utah compared to $7.5 billion in Colorado in 2016). The state also brings in roughly $8 billion from tourism, an increasing portion of which is coming from overseas, particularly Asia, Europe and, closer to home, Canada and Mexico. Coupled with robust natural resources, agriculture, tech, aerospace and finance sectors, Utah trade and tourism are creating a 21st century crossroads of the West, contributing and distributing within the global supply chain.
Even as some in the national conversation voice legitimate concern about the unintended costs of free trade — including the loss of manufacturing jobs to automation and employment outsourcing — free trade policies have nonetheless spurred innovation, created countless new jobs and reduced the price of products for American consumers. Coupled with the internet, unencumbered trade has allowed small businesses and entrepreneurs to reach new markets and global costumers.
In a recent Deseret News column, Derek Miller, head of World Trade Center Utah, wisely called for “fixing” NAFTA rather than “nixing” it. The same policy applies to solving the unintended negative effects of free trade. Disruptive innovation and outsourcing can have devastating economic and social effects on local populations. Surveying the Midwest, which has suffered from an overseas flight of manufacturing jobs, one readily notes the costs of free trade and automation. Local and federal actors must find better ways to ensure that those who bear these costs are able to partake more fully in the immense benefits of a global economy.
There are significant advantages available to those eager to innovate and engage globally. Utah has emerged as a case study in that regard. Its congressional leaders would do well to support economic policies that facilitate strong international commerce in the years ahead, including a sustainable version of NAFTA.