NAFTA created the world’s largest free trade area of 450 million people. It’s an economic powerhouse of $20.08 trillion, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That’s because it links the economies of the United States ($17.97 trillion), Canada ($1.6 trillion), and Mexico ($2.2 trillion). That trade area is greater than the economic output of the 28 countries in the entire European Union. (Source: “Rank Order GDP,” CIA World Factbook, 2015.)
1. Quadrupled Trade
Between 1993-2015, trade between the three members quadrupled, from $297 billion to $1.14 trillion. That boosted economic growth, profits, and jobs for all three countries. It also lowered prices for consumers. (Source: Top Trading Partners, U.S. Census. Canada-Mexico Relations, Government of Canada.)
During that time, the United States increased its exports of goods from $142 billion to $517 billion. That’s a third of its total exports. Canada ($280 billion) and Mexico ($236 billion) were the top two U.S. export markets in 2015. Imports from Canada ($295.2 billion) and Mexico ($294.7 billion) increased from $151 billion in 1993 to $590 billion. That’s 26 percent of total U.S. goods imports. (Source: “2015 Total Trade,” United States Census.)
NAFTA boosted trade by eliminating all tariffs between the three countries. It also created agreements on international rights for business investors.
That reduced the cost of commerce. It also spurs investment and growth, especially for small businesses.
2. Lowered Prices
That’s especially important for oil prices since America’s largest import is oil.
The U.S. imported $144.2 billion in oil from Mexico and Canada. Thanks to greater U.S. shale oil production, this figure was down from $157.8 billion in 2007. NAFTA reduced U.S. reliance on oil imports from the Middle East and Venezuela. It was especially important when the U.S. banned oil imports from Iran. Why? Mexico and Canada are friendly countries. Other oil exporters, such as Venezuela and Iran, use oil as a political chess piece. For example, both started selling oil in currencies other than the petrodollar.
NAFTA lowered food prices in much the same way. Food imports totaled $39.4 billion in 2013, up from $28.9 billion in 2009. It lowered the prices of fresh vegetables, chocolate, fruit (except bananas), and beef. (Source: “NAFTA Imports,” United States Trade Representative.)
3. Increased Economic Growth
NAFTA boosted U.S. economic growth by as much as 0.5 percent a year. The sectors that benefited the most were agriculture, automobiles, and services.
U.S. farm exports to Canada and Mexico grew 156 percent.
That’s compared to a 65 percent increase in farm exports to the rest of the world. Farm exports to Canada and Mexico alone were greater than exports to the next six largest markets combined. Total farm exports were $39.4 billion in 2015.
NAFTA increased farm exports because it eliminated high Mexican tariffs. Mexico is the top export destination for U.S. beef, rice, soybean meal, corn sweeteners, apples, and beans. It is the second largest export destination for corn, soybeans, and oils. (Source: “NAFTA, ” U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service,.)
NAFTA modernized the U.S. auto industry by consolidating manufacturing and driving down costs. Most cars made in North America now have parts sourced from all three countries. The increase in competitiveness allows the industry to fend off Japanese imports. Mexico exports more cars to the United States than Japan. Before the recession, Japan exported twice as many as Mexico. By 2020, Mexico will manufacture 25 percent of all North American cars. (Source: “NAFTA, 20 Years Later,” Knowledge@Wharton, February 19, 2014.)
NAFTA boosted U.S. service exports to Canada and Mexico from $25 billion in 1993 to a peak of $106.8 billion in 2007. The recession hit financial services hard, so services haven’t quite recovered. By 2009, they had only risen to $63.5 billion. By 2012, service exports had improved to $88.6 billion. (Source: USTR, Quantification of NAFTA Benefits. NAFTA)
More than 40 percent of U.S. GDP is services, such as financial services and healthcare. NAFTA eliminates trade barriers in most service sectors, which are regulated. NAFTA requires governments to publish all regulations, lowering hidden costs of doing business.
4. Created Jobs
NAFTA exports created five million new U.S. jobs. Most of those jobs went to 17 states, but all states saw some increases. U.S. manufacturers added more than 800,000 jobs between 1993 and 1997. That’s because manufacturers exported $487 billion in 2014. It generated $40,000 in export revenue for each factory worker. (Source: “NAFTA Triumphant: Assessing Two Decades of Gains,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, October 27, 2015.)
Even imports from NAFTA partners created jobs. That’s because nearly 40 percent of U.S. imports from Mexico originated with American companies. They designed the products domestically, then outsourced some portion of the process in Mexico. Without NAFTA, they would have gone to China. They may not have been created at all. (Source: “NAFTA, 20 Years Later,” Knowledge@Wharton, February 19, 2014.)
5. Increased Foreign Direct Investment
Since NAFTA was enacted, U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in Canada and Mexico more than tripled. It reached $452 billion by 2012 (latest statistics available). That boosted profits for U.S. businesses by giving them more opportunities to develop, and markets to explore.
Canadian and Mexican FDI in the United States grew to $240.2 billion, up from $219.2 billion in 2007. That’s additional investment went mostly to U.S. manufacturing, insurance, and banking companies.
NAFTA protected intellectual properties. It helped innovative businesses by discouraging pirating. It boosted FDI because companies know that international law will safeguard their rights. NAFTA reduced investors’ risk by guaranteeing they will have the same legal rights as local investors. Through NAFTA, investors can make legal claims against the government if it nationalizes their industry or takes their property by eminent domain. (Source: “NAFTA Section Index,” USTR.)
6. Reduced Government Spending
NAFTA allowed firms in member countries to bid on all government contracts. That created a level-playing field for all companies within the agreement’s borders. It cut government budget deficits by allowing more competition and lower-cost bids.