North American Free Trade Agreement - NAFTA

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DEFINITION of 'North American Free Trade Agreement - NAFTA'

A regulation implemented January 1, 1994 in Mexico, Canada and the United States to eliminate most tariffs on trade between these nations. The three countries phased out numerous tariffs, (with a particular focus on those related to agriculture, textiles and automobiles), between the agreement’s implementation and January 1, 2008. NAFTA’s purpose is to encourage economic activity between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

BREAKING DOWN 'North American Free Trade Agreement - NAFTA'

About one-fourth of U.S. imports, (especially crude oil, machinery, gold, vehicles, fresh produce, livestock and processed foods), comes from Canada and Mexico, which are the United States’ second- and third-largest suppliers of imported goods. In addition, about one-third of U.S. exports, particularly machinery, vehicle parts, mineral fuel and oil, and plastics are destined for Canada and Mexico.

The Clinton administration, which signed the law that was developed under the George H. W. Bush administration, believed NAFTA would create 200,000 American jobs within two years and 1 million within five years because exports played a major role in U.S. economic growth. They anticipated a dramatic increase in U.S. imports to Mexico under the lower tariffs. Critics, however, were concerned that NAFTA would move U.S. jobs to Mexico. While the United States, Canada and Mexico have all experienced economic growth, higher wages and increased trade with each other since NAFTA’s implementation, experts disagree on how much NAFTA contributed to these gains, if at all.

NAFTA was supplemented by the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC) and the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC). These side agreements were intended to prevent businesses from relocating to take advantage of lower wages, more lenient laws about worker health and safety, and less strict environmental laws.

NAFTA did not eliminate regulatory requirements on companies wishing to trade internationally, such as rule of origin regulations and paperwork requirements that determine whether a good can be traded under NAFTA. The free trade agreement also contains administrative, civil and criminal penalties for businesses that violate any of the three countries’ laws or customs procedures.

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