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Cooler Heads (Editorial)

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President Donald Trump’s policy stands are infinitely malleable, but he’s been consistent in his threats to pull out of the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, a move that threatens Arkansas’ economic health because it threatens Arkansas’ largest industry: agriculture.

Agriculture accounts for about $16 billion of the state’s economy, and NAFTA, which links the U.S. economy to trading partners Canada and Mexico, has been a boon to the state’s agriculture sector in particular.

The Arkansas World Trade Center in Rogers reports that Arkansas exports to Canada and Mexico have increased more than 400 percent since the trade pact went into effect. The two nations import 44 percent of agricultural products grown in the state, making them Arkansas’ primary agriculture markets.

In fact, Canada and Mexico account for a third of all Arkansas exports, according to the Congressional Research Service, and more than 100,000 jobs in Arkansas depend on trade with the two countries, the Trade Center says.

Arkansas-grown business behemoths Wal-Mart Stores and Tyson Foods have also benefited hugely from the trade agreement.

“We are known as global leaders,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at a meeting on NAFTA and Arkansas earlier this month at the Trade Center. “We cannot retreat from that global presence in the marketplace without harming our workers and businesses in the state.” In December, the governor took this message to the White House personally.

On the day we went to press, Trump indicated there might be hope for the treaty. “Will it be renegotiated? We’re trying right now,” he said in an interview Thursday with CNBC. “I think we have a good chance, but we’ll see what happens.” See what we mean about malleable?

Where NAFTA can be improved, it should be improved, but scrapping the pact in its entirety would create real economic pain in Arkansas.

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