Mexican official sees real trade threat from Trump

Mexican official sees real trade threat from Trump
© Greg Nash

The Mexican secretary of economy says the United States will always be Mexico's largest trading partner, unless "Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE wins the election."

Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute in Washington on Friday, Ildefonso Guajardo touted the economic ties from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), cautioning against efforts to undo them.

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He said the agreement was intended as a free trade zone, but 20 years after its initial implementation, "we realized [that] we integrated Mexico and the U.S.A."

"We build cars together, we build planes together, medical equipment, medical devices, and the point is if you are putting together production, you need to facilitate and to reduce transaction costs on the border," Guajardo said.

International trade has become a central issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, with both Bernie SandersBernie SandersJuan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete Democrats on edge as Iowa points to chaotic race Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal MORE and Donald Trump, on opposite sides on most issues, saying it is hurting American workers.

"Bernie predicted that NAFTA, which went into effect in 1994, would eliminate jobs in the United States and would only benefit multinational corporations," says Sanders's campaign website.

Trump has focused his campaign on the southern border, promising to force Mexico to pay for a wall. He's a proponent of strictly enforcing immigration laws and imposing a 35 percent tariff on products built in Mexico by American companies.

Jared Bernstein, a former economic policy advisor to Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Trump DACA fight hits Supreme Court Juan Williams: Honesty, homophobia and Mayor Pete MORE, predicted politicians would soften their opposition to NAFTA and other trade agreements once in office.

"When I hear politicians talk about renegotiating NAFTA, I think what they’re trying to do is send a signal to their constituents that they understand how imbalanced trade has hurt them," Bernstein said.

Under U.S. law, NAFTA is a trade agreement that could technically be unilaterally dissolved. Mexican law considers NAFTA an international treaty which requires congressional action to be repealed or modified.

Nevertheless, Bernstein said, "I don’t think free trade agreements are really the key determinants of international trade, but it sounds pretty reckless to just tear them up."

Guajardo panned the idea that trade hurts industrial workers, blaming technology and other changes instead. "Trade can be the solution to that," Guajardo said, "We are missing the point. The challenge comes from a natural process of development of technologies that we have to face."

While Mexican politicians have traditionally avoided commenting on foreign political processes, several top Mexican officials, including President Enrique Peña Nieto, have publicly discussed Trump's candidacy.

In March, Peña equated Trump's rhetoric to Adolf Hitler's, while his secretaries of foreign affairs and finance called Trump's proposed wall "ignorant" and "absurd."