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By Brice Wallace

The Salt Lake Chamber has joined forces with counterparts in Mexico in an attempt to keep free trade agreements between the U.S. and Mexico in place.

At a recent ceremony at the Utah Capitol, representatives of the local chamber and the Association of Mexican Chambers of Commerce, known as Concanaco Servytur, signed an agreement to show support for the protection of existing free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Speakers said NAFTA needs to be updated but should remain in place, despite President Trump saying it probably will be terminated.

The Salt Lake Chamber represents more than 8,000 businesses with more than 500,000 employees. Concanaco Servytur has more than 225 chambers of commerce in 600 cities across Mexico that promotes and defends more than 670,000 businesses.

Lane Beattie, the Salt Lake Chamber’s president and chief executive officer, said Mexico is Utah’s third-largest trading partner, with exports to Mexico having grown 231 percent over the past decade. Trade between the U.S. and Mexico totals more than $4 billion. Business Roundtable recently said that NAFTA led to Utah exporting $3.1 billion of goods and services in 2015 to Canada and Mexico, and trade with those two nations supported 121,300 jobs in the Beehive State.

“It is clear to both the Utah and Mexico business communities that there are overwhelming benefits to trading with our neighboring countries, and that without it, economic prosperity would otherwise be impossible,” Beattie said. “That’s why as Utah’s ‘Voice of Business’ that we are emphasizing the importance of doing no harm to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“While the Salt Lake Chamber believes the existing free trade agreement should be modernized to include key areas like e-commerce and information technology, it is vitally important to Utah’s economy that current trade relations are not disturbed. We hope that through this agreement and others, the deep economic ties that support thousands of jobs are preserved and Utah can continue to enjoy the prosperity that international trade provides. … With one voice, the business community on both sides of our borders are calling for smart reforms where everyone wins and our trade relations are allowed to thrive.”

Don Salazar, chairman of the board of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, concurred with the idea of improving, rather than ditching, NAFTA.

“I agree that NAFTA must continue, but, as anything, it needs to be tweaked a bit,” said Salazar, whose organization has 4.3 million members, more than 250 corporate partners, 200 chambers and 60 associations. “It’s an ancient agreement and we need to modernize and include many of the new facets that we now enjoy.”

Salazar stressed that trade with Mexico is “not a new thing,” adding that Mexico has been among the top three U.S. trading partners for the past 75 years. “I think the signing of this document is just an affirmation of something that is already vibrant and positive,” he said.

Alex Guzman, chairman of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that agreements like the one signed at the Capitol benefit everyone.

“When we sign an agreement like this, it’s not just for Hispanics,” said Guzman, who noted that there are nearly 10,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in Utah.

“Economy doesn’t really have any language. Economy doesn’t have any culture. The economy and the business opportunities we have in front of us are exactly that: an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to offer, an opportunity to trade, an opportunity to buy, and an opportunity to do sales at the same time,” Guzman said.

“We have a lot of things to offer to the world, but, at the same time, the world has a lot of things to offer us, and what we’re doing here is just showing our best intentions and interests to put our words in action.”

A second round of renegotiation talks on NAFTA took place last week, with little major progress, according to The New York Times, although it reported that negotiators believed they could reach a deal by year-end. More talks are scheduled to take place later this month in Canada.

A few weeks ago, Trump described NAFTA as “one of the worst deals that anybody in history has ever entered into,” and pledged to renegotiate NAFTA or terminate it. He predicted that “we’ll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point. Probably.”

After the signing ceremony, Beattie said he believes Trump will be swayed to retain an improved version of NAFTA, rather than terminate it, once he understands the overall effect it has on trade.

“I think once he sees the impact of all of that, I’m just hoping that as he looks at the whole issue, he starts to realize that, wow, we can modify this so that it is fair for both countries and a benefit to us,” Beattie said.