Loading the player...

What is the 'North American Free Trade Agreement - NAFTA'?

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented on January 1, 1994 between Mexico, Canada and the United States. The agreement eliminated most tariffs on trade between these nations. NAFTA’s purpose is to encourage economic activity between the three major economic powers of North America. Numerous tariffs, particularly those related to agriculture, textiles and automobiles, were gradually phased out beginning at the agreement’s implementation and ending on January 1, 2008.

BREAKING DOWN 'North American Free Trade Agreement - NAFTA'

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

The legislation was developed during George H. W. Bush's presidency as the first phase of his Enterprise For The Americas Initiative (EA). The Clinton administration, which signed NAFTA into law in 1993, believed that it would create 200,000 U.S. jobs within two years and one million within five years because exports play a major role in U.S. economic growth. The administration anticipated a dramatic increase in U.S. imports to Mexico under the lower tariffs.

Additions to NAFTA

NAFTA was supplemented by two other regulations: 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 other countries to exploit lower wages, lenient worker health and safety regulations and looser environmental regulations.

NAFTA did not eliminate regulatory requirements on companies wishing to trade internationally, such as rule of origin regulations and documentation requirements that determine whether certain goods 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.

North American Industry Classification System

The three signatory countries have also developed a new collaborative system of business classification, which allows for the comparison of business activity statistics across North America. The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) classifies and separates industries according to their production processes.

The NAICS was replaced by the U.S. Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system allowing businesses to be classified systematically in an ever-changing economy. The new system enables easier comparability between all countries in North America. To ensure that the NAICS remains relevant, the intention is to review the system every five years.

The three parties responsible for the formation and continued maintenance of the NAICS are the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia (INEGI) in Mexico, Statistics Canada and the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) through its Economic Classification Policy Committee (ECPC) staffed by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Bureau of Census. The first version of the classification system was released in 1997. A revision in 2002 reflected the substantial changes occurring in the information sector. The most recent revision, in 2017, created 21 new industries by reclassifying, splitting or combining 29 existing industries.

This classification system allows for more flexibility than the four-digit structure of the SIC by implementing a hierarchical six-digit coding system and classifying all economic activity into 20 different industry sectors. Five of these sectors are primarily those that produce goods, with the remaining 15 sectors being strictly those that provide some type of service. Every company receives a primary NAICS code that indicates the company’s main line of business. This primary code is determined by the code definition that generates the largest revenue for a company at a specified location in the past year.

The first two digits of am NAICS code indicate the largest business sector of a company's operations. The third digit designates the company’s subsector, and the fourth digit indicates the industry group to which the company belongs. The fifth digit of the code reflects the company’s  industry. The sixth and final digit designates the company’s specific national industry.

The Impact of NAFTA

Debate continues surrounding NAFTA's impact on its three signatory countries. While the United States, Canada and Mexico have all experienced economic growth, higher wages and increased trade since NAFTA’s implementation, experts disagree on how much the agreement actually contributed to these gains, if at all (for more details see NAFTA's Winners and Losers). The results are hard to isolate, and other significant developments have occurred on the continent and globally in the past quarter-century.

From the beginning, critics of NAFTA were concerned that the agreement would result in U.S. jobs relocating to Mexico (despite the supplementary NAALC). Thousands of U.S. auto workers, for example, were affected in this way by NAFTA.
  1. Industry Bet

    A strategy whereby investors or portfolio managers increase or ...
  2. Free Trade Area

    Free trade areas are regions where member countries have signed ...
  3. National Association of Investors ...

    A non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing investing ...
  4. Quarterly Services Survey

    A survey produced quarterly by the Census Bureau that provides ...
  5. Global Industry Classification ...

    The Global Industry Classification Standard - GICS is a standardized ...
  6. Enterprise For The Americas Initiative ...

    A program to boost hemispheric trade unveiled by U.S. President ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    Mexico Ready to Work with Trump (VTI, VOO)

    Mexican officials said they are eager to hold talks with America’s president-elect in an effort to modernize NAFTA.
  2. Investing

    Mexico ETF Sees Departures Ahead of NAFTA Talks

    Investors are fleeing the Mexico ETF as NAFTA talks heat up.
  3. Trading

    Will General Motors Stock Hold Key Support Levels?

    General Motors shares moved lower amid concerns over NAFTA negotiations, but traders will be watching these key levels.
  4. Investing

    The Economics of Mexico's Middle Class

    Lean about Mexico’s expanding middle class society and the causes for its change from electronics to the manufacturing industry.
  5. Investing

    Why Your Next Dollar Should Go To Mexican Stocks

    Mexico is quickly becoming a leading manufacturer. That means better wages, a growing middle class and more investment opportunities. Here's a quick look.
  6. Investing

    Tariff Talk May Signal NAFTA Exit: Goldman Sachs

    Analysts say the proposal rests on a national security rationale, not an economic one.
  7. Trading

    3 Short Plays If NAFTA Crumbles

    These stocks could sell off if President Trump follows through on his threat to terminate the trade agreement.
  8. Insights

    NAFTA, Trickle-Down, Trump's Wealth: Debate Questions Answered

    Following Monday night's debate, visits to certain articles and terms on our site spiked. To save you time, we put them all in one place.
  9. Insights

    3 Ways Donald Trump Can Make Mexico Pay for a Wall

    We'll explore three practical ways in which Donald Trump can get Mexico to pay for his proposed wall on the southern border.
  10. Insights

    New Mexico's Economy: The 6 Industries Driving GDP Growth

    Discover the four primary industries that are considered to be the most important drivers in the well-being of the economy of New Mexico.
  1. Is Mexico an emerging market economy?

    Learn the difference between a developed economy and an emerging market economy, and understand why Mexico is an emerging ... Read Answer >>
  2. What does the Bureau of Labor Statistics do?

    By collecting, analyzing and reporting on important economic data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has become a critical information ... Read Answer >>
  3. What are some examples of free market economies?

    Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia are examples of free market economies. Read Answer >>
  4. What is the Difference Between a Capitalist System and a Free Market System?

    Learn the main differences between capitalism and a free market system and how these economic systems function. Read Answer >>
  5. What is the automotive sector?

    Explore the automotive sector, which includes manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and original equipment manufacturers, ... Read Answer >>
  6. What developed countries have the largest proportion of industrial companies?

    Examine the industrial sector in developed countries, and learn about the shift in manufacturing production to emerging market ... Read Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Entrepreneur

    An Entrepreneur is an individual who founds and runs a small business and assumes all the risk and reward of the venture. ...
  2. Money Market

    The money market is a segment of the financial market in which financial instruments with high liquidity and very short maturities ...
  3. Perfect Competition

    Pure or perfect competition is a theoretical market structure in which a number of criteria such as perfect information and ...
  4. Compound Interest

    Compound Interest is interest calculated on the initial principal and also on the accumulated interest of previous periods ...
  5. Income Statement

    A financial statement that measures a company's financial performance over a specific accounting period. Financial performance ...
  6. Leverage Ratio

    A leverage ratio is any one of several financial measurements that look at how much capital comes in the form of debt, or ...
Trading Center