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A win-win on trade | Editorial

The new North American trade pact is good for the nation and for Florida.
Mexico's Treasury Secretary Arturo Herrera, left, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland, second left, Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, center, Mexico's top trade negotiator Jesus Seade, second right, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, hold the documents after signing an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, at the national palace in Mexico City on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) [MARCO UGARTE  |  AP]
Mexico's Treasury Secretary Arturo Herrera, left, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland, second left, Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, center, Mexico's top trade negotiator Jesus Seade, second right, and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, hold the documents after signing an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, at the national palace in Mexico City on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) [MARCO UGARTE | AP]
Published Dec. 11, 2019

It’s a win-win for everybody -- Republicans and Democrats, farmers and engineers, mom-and-pops and big business. The new North American trade pact endorsed by the White House and House Democrats is a framework for growth and more stable relations that should especially benefit big exporting states like Florida. The agreement also shows what can be accomplished in Washington when politics and pragmatism align.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the deal on Tuesday, handing President Donald Trump a major legislative victory only moments after she unveiled the Democratic-led House’s intention to impeach him. Pelosi said the deal between the United States, Mexico and Canada is “infinitely better” than an earlier version the administration proposed as a successor to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which Democrats and some Republicans alike have long blamed for shifting manufacturing jobs to Mexico.

Trump has made a renegotiation of this trade deal a signature issue of his presidency, and he stands to enter the 2020 reelection campaign with a major foreign and domestic policy achievement. Pelosi, for her part, managed to give moderate and freshman Democrats a talking point next year to counter criticisms that Democrats are singularly focused on impeachment at the expense of the nation’s business.

However the credit is carved up, Americans should celebrate a rare display of bipartisanship on an issue that cries out for American leadership. The pact modernizes the economic landscape by addressing digital trade and other emerging sectors, includes new protections for industry secrets and mechanisms to halt the trafficking in pirated goods, and heralds new labor and environmental protections that should improve the workplace, the regional habitat and America’s ability to compete. The revised agreement also stripped out an earlier proposal to extend patent protections for new pharmaceutical products, which should help moderate drug prices. Authorities hailed the agreement for having the strongest enforcement provisions ever and, for the first time, inducements for helping small and medium-sized companies break into the North American market.

For Florida, which exported $7.1 billion to Canada and Mexico last year, the stakes are especially high. According to the American Enterprise Institute, nearly 14 percent of Florida’s GDP depends on trade, and one recent study credited trade with Canada and Mexico for supporting 750,000 jobs in Florida. Port Tampa Bay lauded the agreement; Mexico and Canada represent nearly one-fourth of the port’s import and export tonnage. President and chief executive Paul Anderson predicted Wednesday the deal will be a “major catalyst” in furthering the port’s expansion, noting the agreement covers trade in new technologies “which simply didn’t exist 25 years ago.”

The deal’s forward-looking nature and oversight provisions should be a model of future trade agreements. This agreement also creates an ownership stake in global diplomacy for a president who has used tariffs as a principal foreign policy weapon. For Florida and Tampa Bay, the pact represents a new opportunity and further rationale for investing in the ports. Though Democrats and Republicans may have come together for different reasons, this is a welcome outcome of practicality and compromise.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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