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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Stakes are high for Wisconsin in NAFTA debate

NTMA featured in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article.

Friday, January 27, 2017
Businesses, farmers and organized labor advocates in Wisconsin are closely monitoring President Donald Trump's comments about renegotiating the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other aspects about trade relations with Mexico.
In pressing his case to Republican members of Congress on Thursday, Trump called NAFTA “a terrible deal” and “a total disaster from its inception.”
Among businesses in Wisconsin, the consensus regarding Trump’s tough trade talk is that an all-out trade war would be a disaster, but at the same time, taking a look at trade deals as well as tax policy and regulations would be welcomed.
“I’m a free trade guy. I believe in it,” said Rich Meeusen, chairman, president and CEO of Brown Deer-based Badger Meter Inc.
That said, there is room for an examination of trade policy, Meeusen said.
“Generally, I support some efforts to level the playing field on international trade because I do think we have been at a disadvantage,” Meeusen said. “I think our disadvantage has been both inflicted by other countries and self-inflicted. It’s been self-inflicted by having the highest tax rate in the world and by having all of the regulations we have. And it’s also been inflicted through some bad trade deals.”
The state's two largest export partners are Canada and Mexico. Together, the countries account for just under half of all state exports. Goods exported annually from Wisconsin to the two countries are valued at more than $10 billion.
“We do ship to Mexico,” said Mike Retzer, controller at Strohwig Industries in Richfield and leader of the Milwaukee chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association. “So yes, we are interested in what’s going on here. We’re just trying to sort out what’s being proposed."
Trump’s proposals on business and the economy have helped spur a big run-up in the U.S. stock market that saw the Dow Jones industrial average close above 20,000 for the first time on Wednesday.
“What we have in the White House now is a professional negotiator,” said Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist at Milwaukee-based Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. “If we renegotiate (NAFTA), and it’s more favorable to the U.S. than it was in the principal negotiation, I think that’s bullish.”
Bittles says he believes Trump is looking at things from the perspective of a seasoned deal-maker.
“Don’t forget Trump is a negotiator. He’ll start out asking for the world, knowing he’s going to accept a whole lot less,” Bittles said. “That’s where he’s coming from, and I think that’s where most people miss the point.”
Besides, he says, the U.S. is a massive market for goods from other countries. Those countries would be foolish to risk their access to the American consumer.
“So, do you really want to get into a trade war with the U.S.? I don’t believe you do,” Bittles said.
Retzer said he would support any efforts to fortify manufacturing in the U.S., which he argues is held back on a number of different fronts, ranging from overseas competitors and government regulation to the U.S. dollar’s strength against foreign currencies.
(Read more here.)