The effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Robeson County has been devastating.
Liquor by the drink passed seven years after the passage of NAFTA. Restaurants slowly sprang up along the Interstate 95 corridor as manufacturing plants left. It wasn’t enough to replace the exodus of textile jobs, but it certainly helped. Nevertheless, the county hasn’t recovered.
Republicans and Democrats authored NAFTA. Free trade makes economic sense. The intent was good and should have helped the nation as a whole. Robeson always felt like we took one for the team.
But did we?
Presidential candidate Donald Trump was in Fayetteville recently. He said he knows what NAFTA did to the region. He then said something insightful, that NAFTA was not free trade. He should know.
Critics have attacked everything about Trump. They’ve even complained about his hair.
Sure, Trump is boastful and a self-promoter. At the end of the day branding is actually his business. But attacking Trump’s business acumen is a tough sell.
According to Business Week, the Trump organization generated $605 million in revenue last year, clearing somewhere around $300 million. That’s a phenomenally high profit margin of 50 percent, making it more profitable than companies in almost every industry. Trump even has higher margins than Apple. Other sources put the Trump income with investments into the billions with 22,450 employees in the Trump organization alone. Trump knows business and has created jobs.
Critics cite four bankruptcies and some ventures that didn’t make it. But in a business world where 90 percent of businesses fail, 98 percent of Trump’s businesses succeed. You never hear about the more than 500 Trump businesses that succeeded. The point being, despite any narcissism that drives his success, again Trump knows business.
Which brings us back to NAFTA. Trump is clear about the fact that if China sends products to the United States for free, but the United States is forced to pay tariffs to send products into China, that isn’t free trade. It’s only free trade for China. So in Trump’s view, Robeson and the whole country got shafted.
There also are critics that point to some of Trump’s many businesses that manufacture products in other countries. Trump doesn’t deny it. He says it’s the only way to do good business under NAFTA. Trump might not have much of a political filter but he isn’t stupid about business. He says and does what he has to do to succeed. To bring those Trump products and other lost businesses back to the United States, Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA along with other economic policies that have hurt the this country.
For every criticism about Trump, there’s one for Hillary. At some point voters will have to look beyond criticism and assess the objectives of each candidate.
Second Amendment supporters won’t like Hillary’s Supreme Court picks. Military supporters won’t like Hillary’s plans to continue Obama’s smaller military. No one doubts her intentions of continuing a socialist path for the country that will affect the nation for generations. Then there are the lingering questions the FBI had concerning her email and the Clinton Foundation.
Supreme Court picks are important. But plans for the economy loom heavily for Robeson’s recovery. Trump has the plans for the economy that are innovative and bold. They are more specific to remedying the effects of NAFTA, which is needed for local economic growth.
No other candidate Republican or Democrat has offered the solution to renegotiate NAFTA. It is the opportunity to reclaim local manufacturing that no one else has addressed. Trump represents a unique opportunity for someone outside the political elite to focus on real problems rather than simply politics as usual.
Trump’s right. NAFTA shafted Robeson.
Phillip Stephens is chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.