Panel: Digital trade missed by original NAFTA can no longer be ignored


Digital trade should be a topic in any new NAFTA talks, SXSW panelists say.

The Mexican Consulate in Austin organized the panel to highlight Mexico’s digital and tech sectors.

A key factor that should be discussed when renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement isn’t even in the original agreement, according to Google’s public policy manager, Kate Sheerin.

NAFTA 2.0 needs to evolve with the times by addressing the digital trade and economy, according to representatives from Mexico, the United States and the tech industry. It should reflect how the “economy now is globally digitized,” said Patrick Schaefer, executive director of the Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness.

Sheerin and Schaefer were among the panelists who spoke at South by Southwest Interactive’s Casa México session that focused on the gains and shortcomings of the 24-year-old trade pact among the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The panel discussed how NAFTA should modernize in the face of digital advances that have changed trade.

The Mexican Consulate in Austin organized Casa México to highlight the advances in the digital and technological sectors in Mexico and their relationship to the U.S. market.

The other panelists were U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes; Paulo Carreño, director general of the trade group ProMéxico; and Alejandro Delgado, president of the Instituto Nacional del Emprendedor, which supports entrepreneurship in Mexico.

With the signing of NAFTA came many firsts, including the first trade agreement between a developed country and a developing one that included “investment treaty provisions at the same time” that, in Schaefer’s words, are “a very innovative legal and economic tool.”

But the last quarter-century has seen a shift: NAFTA is no longer just about products crossing between countries, he said, but about the “systems that underlie all those trades and goods and services.”

“When we are rethinking NAFTA, I think it’s our opportunity as Americanos and North Americans to create a new free trade agreement that can show the rest of the world how we can protect trade, create jobs and have a more competitive North America,” he said.

Creating systems for those who might face job displacement was an issue that arose more than once.

For Sheerin, the “digital economy is the economy of today” and the challenge is in presenting an agreement that could be sustainable in the future. It is also important to create more job opportunities outside those of the traditional tech areas, she said.

Delgado said programs should focus on education, relocation and software development — and by relocation, Delgado doesn’t mean to other cities but rather within the company.

As for Mexico, NAFTA already has had a cultural impact in a country where the median age is 27, Carreño said. He added that Guadalajara is seen as the country’s “own Silicon Valley.”

When asked about NAFTA’s role in making Mexico something of a rising hub for startups, Delgado said there has been an entrepreneurial cultural shift that has forced the nation to discipline itself to become more competitive.

“Previously we were educated to become employees. … Mexico is educating youngsters to be owners of their own destiny, of their own economy,” he said.

But Mexico still faces many challenges, he added, and must invest in innovation, productivity and the rule of law throughout the country.

As for how this agreement can be sustained in the long term, Hurd said the tech industry is rapidly changing and that there should be a framework that allows for the updating of NAFTA.

Before slipping out early from the discussion, Hurd said that the relationship among the three countries is more than just as neighbors and partners.

“We are married and can’t get divorced,” he said.

The relationship between U.S and Mexico, Delgado added, is one that is socially and economically intertwined and “goes beyond us.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Texas Digest: Pagourtzis’ parents sued over school shooting
Texas Digest: Pagourtzis’ parents sued over school shooting

SANTA FE School shooter’s parents sued The family of one of the students killed in the Santa Fe High School shooting filed a lawsuit against the parents of the student who admitted he was the gunman, claiming his father didn’t properly secure the weapons and the parents were negligent in entrusting him with firearms. Authorities charged...
HOLIDAY WEEKEND HEAT: Green Belt hiker taken to hospital
HOLIDAY WEEKEND HEAT: Green Belt hiker taken to hospital

Rescuers pulled a hiker in his 50s out of the Green Belt on Saturday after he came down with a heat-related illness, according to Capt. Darren Noak of the Austin-Travis County EMS. The hiker, who was taken to Seton Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, was extricated from a small side trail in the Green Belt using a “big wheel,&rdquo...
Man dead, child critically injured in East Austin crash, EMS says
Man dead, child critically injured in East Austin crash, EMS says

A man in his 20s died and a child was left with life-threatening injuries after a crash on FM 969 on Saturday morning, Capt. Darren Noak of the Austin-Travis County EMS said. Authorities were called to the scene at 9:43 a.m. The accident took place on East Martin Luther King Boulevard, just west of Decker Lane. The child with the critical injuries...
Service dog delivers 8 puppies at Florida airport while waiting for a flight
Service dog delivers 8 puppies at Florida airport while waiting for a flight

Ellie, a service dog in training, unexpectedly gave birth to eight puppies while waiting at an airport in Tampa, Fla. The two-year-old yellow lab was assisted by city paramedics on Friday, according to Tampa Fire Rescue's Twitter account.           As a crowd smiled and cheered, she brought...
Highs in the upper 90s expected for Memorial Day weekend in Austin
Highs in the upper 90s expected for Memorial Day weekend in Austin

It will be a sunny and hot Memorial Day weekend in Austin, starting off Saturday with a high temperature of 99 degrees and a heat index of 104, according to the National Weather Service. Highs will stay in the upper 90s through the holiday on Monday, so stay safe and keep hydrated if you are spending time outdoors. At night, the temperature will fall...
More Stories