U.S., Mexican trade illustrates complicated issue

Friday, February 3, 2017

One of President Trump's first executive orders was to begin construction of a border wall with Mexico, but exactly how the relationship between the two countries plays out is anybody's guess.

There's a near 100 percent consensus when it comes to one commodity from Mexico -- illegal drugs -- but a trade war with our neighbor to the south would affect all of us in ways we wouldn't like.

You're probably not surprised that 77 percent of the avocados for this Sunday's football party came from Mexico, along with a third of the tomatoes, but there's a good chance your new four-door pickup truck, economy car or small SUV was assembled in Mexico.

Some $74 billion worth of vehicles sold in the United States in 2015 were built in Mexico, where the average auto assembly worker makes about $8 an hour, compared to U.S. wages as high as $58 an hour counting wages and benefits.

But it isn't a one-way street.

Yes, we did have a trade deficit with Mexico in 2015, bringing in $316.4 billion in goods and services, but we exported quite a lot southward across the border, $267.2 billion.

Restricting that trade would have serious repercussions in Nebraska and other red states since Mexico is our third largest agricultural export market.

Corn is the leading category, $2.3 billion; soybeans, $1.4 billion; dairy products, $1.3 billion; pork and pork products, $1.3 billion; and beef and beef products, $1.1 billion.

We also export $19 billion in mineral fuels to Mexico, along with $42 billion in machinery, $41 billion in electrical machinery and $17 billion in plastics.

You have a good chance of watching the big game on a flat screen TV built in Mexico, drinking Mexican tequila or beer kept cold in a refrigerator imported from Mexico.

Who knows, perhaps once marijuana is legalized in your state, it may someday be grown and exported legally from Mexico as well.

That Super Bowl party wouldn't be the same without products imported from Mexico -- in 2015 we imported $4.8 billion in fresh vegetables, $4.3 billion in fresh fruit, $2.7 billion in wine and beer, $1.7 billion in snack foods and $1.4 billion in processed fruit and vegetables.

President Trump has struck a chord with voters who feel America needs to do a better job looking out for its own interests.

The trade situation with Mexico illustrates, however, just how complicated such a relationship can be and how changes could easily have disastrous unintended consequences.

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