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As Trump looks to change course, local supporters defend NAFTA


Rhetoric dismissing international trade deals has been a central theme for President-elect Donald Trump. While the future of such agreements remains in question, some local officials are arguing the benefits of one trade deal: the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The trade agreement, better known as NAFTA, has been in place for a quarter-century. Its benefits were debated at recent panel discussion in Tonawanda.

"When you look at New York alone, I think Canada is responsible for upwards of 600,000 New York jobs," said Mark Fisher, President and CEO of the Council of the Great Lakes Region. Overall, he says, U.S.-Canada trade is responsible for 9-million American jobs.

"There's hundreds of millions of dollars in trade interactions that happen between New York, Ontario and Quebec. If you were take that away, I think that would have a major drag on New York's economy, a major drag on the American economy."

During his Senate confirmation hearing this week, Commerce Secretary-nominee Wilbur Ross said that NAFTA will be an early topic in the Trump Administration. The President-elect frequently criticized the deal along the campaign trail, claiming that it benefited Mexico and Canada while taking away good-paying American jobs.

"It's not necessarily jobs in manufacturing. We have jobs in other sectors that have grown because of NAFTA since 1994," said Damon Piatek, President and CEO of Welke Customs Brokers in Tonawanda.

"Even in the logistics industry, the truck drivers, the warehouse, the number of CPB officers at the border. That's all a huge impact on our economy in Western New York. "

Fisher says local businesses and elected officials on both sides of the border need to do a better job talking about the benefits of trade. One of those benefits, proponents say, is the shopping activity at area malls generated by Canadians looking for bargains.