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Poll Finds Most Americans Have Pragmatic View of NAFTA

Written by Tim Triplett

Many Americans see the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a contributing factor to the growth of the U.S. economy over the past 20 years and believe the focus of the NAFTA negotiations should be on modernizing the agreement, not withdrawing from it, according to a survey of 2,000 U.S. adults commissioned by Livingston International Inc. and conducted online by Harris Poll.

Though it is often portrayed as a bad deal for their country, data from the survey indicate Americans seem to have put the trade deal in context with the broader changes that have taken place in the economy and do not seem to single it out as a principal cause of economic adversity.

Despite often heated rhetoric around the subject, almost half of Americans (45 percent) believe the trade deal has greatly influenced growth in the U.S. economy over the past 20 years and more than half (57 percent) believe a withdrawal from NAFTA is likely to result in a price increase on everyday goods. Only 6 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should withdraw from the agreement altogether.

“These recent data suggest Americans hold a measured view of NAFTA and would like to see the government take a balanced and sensible approach in the NAFTA negotiations,” said Daniel McHugh, chief executive officer of Livingston International. “Americans recognize and understand that NAFTA has resulted in a variety of effects on the U.S. economy, most of which have been positive, and withdrawing from the agreement will likely lead to unwanted and unnecessary economic disruption.”

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Less than half of Americans (42 percent) see NAFTA as primarily responsible for the loss of American manufacturing jobs to workers in other countries, while 62 percent see it as just one of many factors contributing to the loss of those jobs. In fact, 56 percent of Americans and half of unemployed Americans agree that technological advancements, such as robotics and automation, have played a greater role than NAFTA in the loss of American manufacturing jobs.

The survey also suggests Americans understand the nature of the country’s economy has changed substantially. Forty-three percent of Americans believe the trade deal has played an influential role in the growth of America’s knowledge economy, while fewer than two in five Americans (38 percent) believe a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA would bring back most of the manufacturing jobs lost since NAFTA was signed.

“In many ways, these sentiments echo much of the feedback industry groups have already provided to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, namely that there is an opportunity to update or modernize NAFTA, but that there should not be a complete withdrawal or any extensive modification of the agreement that could dramatically disrupt business operations,” said McHugh. “With 14 million U.S. jobs dependent on trade with Mexico and Canada, alterations to NAFTA such as changing the rules of origin for manufactured goods could adversely affect employment and lead to the price of everyday goods going up.”

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