One businessman is not waiting to see how discussions over the trade agreement shake out to expand in Mexico
Regardless of what happens to the North American Free Trade Agreement, Queens businessman Kevin Leichter is planning to expand in Mexico. Last week his Premier Paint Roller Co. of Richmond Hill announced the opening of an office and warehouse in Mexico City. The goal is to build relationships with customers there and throughout Latin America. If things take off as Leichter hopes, he might build a Mexican factory and start manufacturing south of the border. “It’s such a compelling opportunity,” he said. “It’s something we would do with or without NAFTA.”
Leichter’s attitude may well answer the question of what NAFTA ’s demise would mean to New York companies that export or manufacture throughout North America. President Donald Trump has long trashed the agreement with Mexico and Canada and now is reportedly planning to kill it altogether. But tearing up the deal likely wouldn’t damage the city’s economy in any meaningful way. Nor would it help restore upstate’s decimated manufacturing sector. The benefits of operating and selling across the border would still outweigh the costs even if those costs rise.
That said, Canada is the state’s top trading partner. If tariffs rise, Diamond District merchants who import precious metals could be hurt, as could dealers of agricultural products. But most of the city’s cross-border business is based on providing financial and other services to international clients, and those sectors probably wouldn’t be affected much if NAFTA were torn apart, said Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute. Scrapping the deal would be unlikely to stoke investment in factory towns, Scott added, because operating costs are far less in China and elsewhere overseas. “As for upstate manufacturing,” he said, “that ship has sailed.”
For Leichter, the facts are plain: Wages in Mexico remain much lower than for his unionized workforce in Queens. He doesn’t see that changing anytime soon, no matter how the trade winds blow.