Kennsaw State hosts “NAFTA@20” conference

Photo: From left, Consuls General Louise Blais and Ricardo Camaro Sanchez and ITA's Shawn Ricks…

Georgia (Oct 23, 2014)

Photo: From left, Consuls General Louise Blais and Ricardo Camaro Sanchez and ITA's Shawn Ricks

Forum inspires lively debate about the challenges ahead for trilateral agreement

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 23, 2014) -- An all-day “Nafta@20” conference brought together scholars and governmental and diplomatic representatives of the U.S., Canada and Mexico, the three North American nations that 20 years ago signed the historic free trade agreement.

While many applauded the economic development the agreement has generated, the conference invited discussion of controversies such as trade imbalances, lost jobs, impact on regional cooperation and competitiveness and NAFTA’s failure to keep pace with technological and political realities. 

Throughout the day, conferees heard from panels and speakers offering unique perspectives on the trade agreement, its future, and on relations between the three nations.  Participating panelists and speakers included:

·      Walter Bastian, keynote speaker, deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, International Trade Administration 

·      Robin Dorff, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Kennesaw State 

·      Alan Lebaron, director of Maya Heritage Community Project and professor of history, Kennesaw State

·      Govind Hariharan, executive director of the ICA Institute and professor of economics, Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State

·      John R. McIntyre, professor of management and international affairs and executive director of the Georgia Tech, Center  for International Business Education & Research (GT CIBER), Georgia Institute of Technology

·      Chris Young, executive director of CIFAL Atlanta

·      Louise Blais, consul general of Canada in Atlanta

·      Ricardo Camara Sanchez, consul general of Mexico in Atlanta

·      Shawn Ricks, senior policy advisor, global markets, International Trade Administration

·      Juan Hernandez, director of business development, Southwire Company

·      Darlene Huggins, vice president of business development, Dustex Corporation

·      Kathy Oxford, senior international trade manager, Georgia Department of Economic Development

Canada’s Consul General Blais praised the agreement, which she said has raised living standards, stimulated domestic economies to be more competitive in the face of global competition and served as a model for other nations.

“When it comes to NAFTA, I drank the Kool-Aid,” said Blais, noting the increase in Canada’s trade from $289 billion before NAFTA to $1.1 trillion in 2013.  She also noted how some Canadian industries, such as Southern Ontario’s wine industry, were faltering but have done very well as a result of investments in technology that were made possible by NAFTA. 

Blais distributed a summary showing NAFTA’s impact on the healthy trade relationship between Georgia and Canada, which is one of the state’s largest export markets.  In 2013, Georgia and Canada recorded $10.4 billion in annual bilateral trade.

Mexico’s Consul General Sanchez said NAFTA has had little impact on his country’s economy and criticized its failure to address the free movement of goods and people between the U.S and Mexico. He was especially critical of the number of border crossings, noting a critical at lack of train border crossings. With everything being moved by truck, Sanchez said products are taking weeks to pass through customs, and to fully assemble a car, the materials make eight border crossings.

“We live with a 19th century infrastructure and a 20th century law to do business in the 21st century,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez was optimistic, however, about Mexico’s trade relationship with Georgia. He noted the recent auto production agreement with Westport, Georgia-based Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia and Monterey, Mexico, which he said is generating jobs in the U.S. and Mexico.  He said Georgia is Mexico’s 12th largest single trading partner. Mexico is now the 8th largest producer of cars in the world.

In addition, he said NAFTA has led to interregional research and development and production of aircraft and cars. For example, aircraft may be developed in the U.S., its parts produced in various parts of Mexico and Quebec, and assembled in Wichita, Kan.

 Sanchez said trade agreements between Mexico and the U.S. needed “to go deeper.” He urged an increase in the number of exchange students between Mexico and the U.S., from 14,000 to 100,000 Mexican students who study in the U.S. and 4,000 to 50,000 American students who study in Mexico.

“NAFTA is not only about the production of goods and trade; it should present a greater opportunity to increase knowledge of both countries. We have a lot to celebrate but we have a lot to do.”

Both the International Trade Administration’s Ricks and Bastian noted that a number of factors outside NAFTA have had an impact on the treaty’s success and shortcomings. 

“What I remain convinced of is that NAFTA has had a daily impact on everyday citizens and the quality of their lives,” said Ricks, who has worked since the measure was enacted on a number of successful regional trade agreements that were based on NAFTA.  She pointed out that at its origins, NAFTA had no provisions for labor and environment.

During his keynote, Bastain said: “The jury’s still out on the public acceptance of [NAFTA].  We have to remember that it only passed by one vote.”

NAFTA never anticipated issues evolving from a 2,000-mile border with Mexico and the 5,000 mile border separating the U.S. and Canada, or from cyber security threats, Bastian said, observing that what would be put into a trade agreement today is completely different. He noted provisions for e-commerce; better stakeholder outreach; better, more uniform standards in products and goods; better infrastructure, such as more border crossings; and more provisions for education and research.

“We just can’t lose sight of what we were trying to do with this agreement — create jobs and grow economies.”


--Sabbaye McGriff with Patrick Harbin

Photo by David Caselli




A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit