Gov. Mark Gordon sent a letter to President Donald Trump last week urging the ratification of a renewed trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada in the midst of escalating tensions between the U.S. and its southern neighbors over immigration.
The letter – dated June 4 – emphasizes the importance of the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, to Wyoming’s economy, and underlines its significance to a state economy closely intermeshed with trade agreements to the north and south. In 2017, trade relations with Canada and Mexico yielded $329 million in exports from Wyoming, the letter stated, helping to support more than 69,000 jobs in sectors from manufacturing to agriculture.
“Given the interrelationship of all three economies, this new agreement is more about renewing and deepening decades-long ties than starting anew,” wrote Gordon. “Completion of this trade agreement with our closest trading partners is critical to Wyoming as we seek to boost economic development and encourage new investment that leads to job creation.”
“As we work to diversify Wyoming’s economy, a robust and balanced trade agreement with Canada and Mexico as well as other essential trade partners will ensure our success in the 21st century economy,” he added.
The plan has been in limbo, as Democrats hold out on a number of labor and environmental concerns not yet addressed in the deal’s terms. The deal has also faced a rocky road to passage over a spat between the Trump administration and the Mexican government over immigration, with the president threatening to levy tariffs unless Mexico agreed to ramp up efforts to decrease illegal crossings.
A deal had not yet been finalized as of Tuesday afternoon. According to a White House pool reporter, Trump took a piece of paper out of his breast pocket before departing on a trip to Iowa and said it contained a deal with Mexico. He said it will go into effect when Mexico tells him it’s OK to release it, per the pool report.
“That’s the agreement that everybody says I don’t have,” he said. “I’m going to let Mexico do the announcement at the right time.”
The initial terms of the USMCA – which will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement often criticized by Trump – offer a number of agriculture and manufacturing provisions of particular interest to Wyoming, whose largest trade partner – Canada – accounted for $234 million in goods in 2018, or 17 percent of the state’s total goods exports, according to figures from the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
The Gordon administration’s approach to foreign trade agreements, however, is varied. Gordon’s direct appeal to Trump is a departure from his stance in the midst of an escalating trade war with China, in which Trump proposed billions of dollars in tariffs as a negotiating tactic to bring China to the table in an effort to hammer out a new trade agreement.
According to figures from the U.S.-China Business Council, China ranked 7th out of all of Wyoming’s trade partners in goods exported in 2017, and was its second largest trade partner in services exported, lagging only $5 million behind Canada and exceeding 4th-place Mexico by $21 million. While Canada represents 17.2 percent of Wyoming’s exports, China represented a larger overall share of Wyoming’s 2018 exports than Mexico, at 3.9 percent vs. 2.6 percent, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.
While China is a significant market for Wyoming, Gordon – who acknowledged the impacts of tariffs on Wyoming farmers – did not directly oppose the strategy, saying last month that most in the agriculture industry would understand the nation could not engage in trade agreements “that are not at least mutually beneficial, but actually hamper our country.”
These differences of opinion are nuanced, however.
“The nuance is centered on the fact that Canada and Mexico are Wyoming’s two largest trading partners and a set trade agreement facilitates further growth in economic exchanges with both,” Michael Pearlman, Gordon’s director of communications, wrote in an email. “Secondarily, the Governor’s comments about China recognize that he and the Wyoming agriculture producers he referenced know the reasons the President has imposed tariffs.”
“Gov. Gordon does believe in ‘robust and balanced trade agreements’ with other partners if those agreements benefit Wyoming, as the USMCA does,” he added. “That approach doesn’t mean tariffs should be completely off the table with other countries.”
Gordon joined governors from other red states, including Arkansas, Idaho, and Alabama, in writing to the White House in support of USMCA.