TORONTO — He’s a Democrat and she’s a Republican, but Texan mayors Mike Rawlings and Betsy Price brought a unified, pro-free trade message to Canada on Monday.
Rawlings, mayor of Dallas, and Price, mayor of nearby Fort Worth, were in Toronto on Monday — and are heading to Montreal Tuesday — to tell Canadians that they would rather see the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiated than abandoned.
Price said the 23-year-old trade deal has been a boon for the Dallas-Fort Worth region, which is at the mid-point of the “NAFTA” highway, equally distant from Toronto and Mexico City.
“We are optimistic that NAFTA will be renegotiated. When you get right down to the brass tacks, there’s too much involved for all three countries’ economies for this to be submarined,” Price said. “Trade is not a bad word. Compromise and renegotiation are not bad words.”
The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth are at the centre of a so-called 12-county “metroplex” that is home to 7.2 million people. The gross domestic product of the region is about $633 billion, which is roughly the same size as Ontario’s economy.
Two-way trade between the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Toronto is worth about US$1.66 billion a year, while the region’s bilateral trade with Montreal is worth US$1.19 billion.
The epicentre of it all is the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, which is the second-biggest airline hub in the United States after Atlanta. “The real engine is DFW airport,” Rawlings said.
To the Canadian observers, U.S. politics seems fiercely polarized. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has taken positions that provide little comfort to businesses that have come to rely on the continent-wide supply chain that has developed since NAFTA came into effect in 1994.
Rawlings said that U.S. political rhetoric can get pretty heated during elections for state or federal office. U.S. municipal politics can be more middle-of-the-road, he said. Although he is a Democrat and Price is a Republican, the two mayors are both centrists who can easily find common ground on several issues, especially trade.
“If we’re in the same place, for the most part it’s on trade,” Rawlings told the Post.
Rawlings said his Democrat background might give him more liberty to criticize some of the “verbosity” that President Trump has espoused on trade. But on most issues, he said he and Price are both convinced NAFTA has helped grow their region’s economy.
Later Monday, Price and Rawlings were scheduled to meet with Ontario’s premier, Kathleen Wayne. They were expected to discuss the “buy American” provisions of a procurement law recently passed in Texas.
The mayors said local Texan business people probably thought the bill was directed at competition from China and Turkey, and not at Canada. Price said she’s optimistic Texan legislators will “revamp” the law it at some point.
The Texan mayors were also expected to meet with some Canadian pension funds to discuss possible investments in a proposed US$16-billion high-speed rail link between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. The plan is to build the project with private funds.
“It looks like we’re on a path to get this going,” Rawlings said.