Other Voices

Trade mission to Canada: promoting North Texas business

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings in 2015.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings in 2015. Star-Telegram archives

In a quirk of geography, Dallas-Fort Worth is about equidistant from Mexico City and Toronto — giving us a unique vantage point to assess how the North American Free Trade Agreement has reshaped large parts of the local economy.

The focus on NAFTA is especially timely as we head a trade mission starting June 11 to Canada, seeking to promote Fort Worth and Dallas business opportunities, development and tourism with an important partner.

Canada is the state’s third largest trade partner, with $35 billion in import-export activity, and the North Texas region accounted for a large chunk of that.

DFW exports three times more merchandise to both Mexico and Canada than to China, its No. 3 exports destination. About 68 DFW companies operate in Canada, and almost twice as many Canadian companies do so in North Texas.

Beyond the robust statistics, trade policy is gaining more attention nationally after President Donald Trump vowed to withdraw from NAFTA but later said he wanted expedited approval of a reworked agreement, a move pending in Congress.

In Toronto, we will be participating on a panel that will discuss the future of NAFTA, “Local Impact, National Concern,” with Steve Verheul, recently named Canada’s chief negotiator in NAFTA talks with Washington.

Amid the debate, one constant has emerged: the trade pact dramatically has affected business dynamics in our backyard. Since NAFTA took effect more than two decades ago, U.S. trade with Mexico and Canada has more than tripled, with Texas being such a large and important trading partner that some have called DFW the business capital of NAFTA.

Fort Worth and Dallas have huge transportation networks and distribution hubs that are heavily invested in trade associated with NAFTA. In addition, North Texas is a leader in finance and business services, part of a growing export sector. And our deep talent pool makes DFW a top attraction for companies looking to establish a North American trade base.

NAFTA has gone far in building stronger alliances among our trading partners, transforming parts of North America into an integrated economy that generates widespread benefits. Any changes should be enacted with care, ensuring that workers and industry have the tools to thrive and compete globally.

North Texas is a rapidly growing region where businesses, innovation and ingenuity flourish. We agree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers that some of NAFTA’s rules need modernizing to reflect today’s business reality and better prepare for future trade patterns.

But it is important to do no harm, keep the trade pact trilateral, maintain Texas’ global competitiveness and move quickly to prevent marketplace uncertainty.

Our trip also will focus on sharing ideas and getting a first-hand look at innovative urban transportation initiatives, similar to many underway in Fort Worth and Dallas. That includes the bullet train Texas Central is building between North Texas and Houston, and a separate idea for a high-speed link train between Fort Worth and Dallas.

We’re excited to be part of a smart cities tour in Montreal, which is developing transformational projects that affect every aspect of life, including infrastructure, public services or social issues.

Like Fort Worth and Dallas, Montreal is improving its transit and bridge systems, expanding use of electric cars and buses, supporting a bike-sharing program and enacting other mobility ideas.

We will be presenting to the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal a “Doing Business in DFW Seminar,” outlining recent successes and upcoming opportunities in the DFW region, supplemented by testimonials from key business leaders.

In Toronto, we will be meeting with city leaders who are building a new regional express rail surface subway, adding more bus and streetcar routes that will improve the commute for thousands and redesigning an elevated expressway that frees land for development.

Whether it is the complexities of an international trade agreement or the enhancement of city mobility programs, our goals on this trip are to explain what has driven success in Dallas and Fort Worth and to gather the best ideas that may be adapted for the public good here, Texas-style.

Betsy Price is the mayor of Fort Worth. Mike Rawlings is the mayor of Dallas.