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Trump Calls NAFTA Partners To Say He Will Renegotiate The Deal

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump called the leaders of Canada and Mexico last night to say he wanted to renegotiate that deal. This came after White House officials had said earlier in the day that the president intended to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. Now he says he's not doing that for now.

Republican Congressman Will Hurd from Texas represents a district along a good part of the U.S.-Mexico border. Congressman, welcome back to the program.

WILL HURD: Steve, it's always great to be on. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: What do you make of this move by the president?

HURD: Well, I'm glad that he made the phone calls to reaffirm the commitment to staying into NAFTA and to kind of allay any fears that people had because the report from earlier in the day was concerning. You know, I do believe that NAFTA can be improved. President Pena Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada have, you know, commented that they believe the same thing can happen.

NAFTA is important to our economy, especially in Texas. Mexico is Texas' No. 1 trading partner. And we got to get this right. And, you know, I think there's - there are areas where we can improve the deal, especially around energy and digital trades and goods and services, on agriculture. So the fact that the president made it clear that he was not pulling out is, I think, a good thing.

INSKEEP: You're relieved. A lot of people who support NAFTA were making a lot of phone calls yesterday, asking - what's going on? - because White House officials said to numerous news organizations, he's pulling out, or he's getting ready to pull out or something. Do you have any idea what was happening yesterday at the White House?

HURD: I don't. I don't. But once we started inquiring, we got very clear feedback that the case was, you know, they're not going to be pulling out and making that announcement this week. So definitely relieved. But we still have to move forward and talk about the principles of NAFTA. And, you know, we need to educate folks on how the U.S., Mexico and Canada, we build things together. You know, 40 percent of the inputs that go into Mexican products come from the U.S. That number is 25 percent for Canada. And then it gives them...

INSKEEP: We make stuff that is then used by manufacturers in those countries - that's what you're saying.

HURD: Absolutely, absolutely. And, you know, there's a lot of talk about how exports create jobs. But imports do as well. In my home town, Toyota makes makes cars in San Antonio, and some of those inputs are coming in from Mexico. So it is important to the vitality of our economy. And...

INSKEEP: Congressman, very briefly, one quick question on NAFTA then I want to move on.

HURD: Sure.

INSKEEP: The president says he wants to renegotiate. You say you're OK with trying to improve it. Mexican officials, many of them, have said, we don't want to renegotiate; that creates all kinds of uncertainty. Are you willing to say if they won't change, we'll pull out?

HURD: I'm not willing to say that. I think - I do believe NAFTA can be improved. It was an agreement made 24 years ago, and we should be looking to improve it.

INSKEEP: Now regarding the border wall, the president has said he wants funding for the border wall that he wants to build as part of the spending measure that you guys are trying to wrap up in the next couple of days to keep the government open in Congress. Do you expect a vote on a spending bill that includes any form of funding for a border wall?

HURD: I don't believe there's going to be funds for a border wall. There will be funds for increased border security. That's things like technology, additional men and women in Border Patrol and ICE. And I think those are good moves.

And Steve, we've talked about this a number of times. I believe that building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security. I was recently in El Paso. The El Paso sector - and the border is broken up into sectors - has 300 miles of border in it. Only 60 miles has permanent technology on it to monitor the border, and that needs to change. And we need to make sure that our men and women in Border Patrol have the tools they need to monitor the border, track incursions and then ultimately be deployed. So...

INSKEEP: Censors, drones, things like that - that's what you're talking about?

HURD: Absolutely. Cameras, drones - I mean, you can even lay fiber that can detect a difference between a jack rabbit and a human. It's 2017. We should be utilizing all the tools we have access to, not a third-century solution.

INSKEEP: Hey - (laughter) third century - Congressman Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, thanks very much. Always a pleasure talking with you.

HURD: Thank you, Steve Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.