Lehigh Valley

Lehigh Valley businesses react to NAFTA renegotiations

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The United States, Mexico, and Canada have started renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which greatly reduced tariffs and trade restrictions on most goods traded among those three countries.

In a joint news conference Tuesday, the U.S. came out swinging with harsh criticism of the agreement, but what do local business owners think?

"There's nothing that could benefit us in NAFTA and there never was," said Mereille Ziade, account manager at Mona Lisa Fashions in Allentown.

Mona Lisa is a contractor that sews apparel for other companies, started by Ziade's parents in 1984 after they emigrated from Lebanon.

"There were a lot of jobs in that field at that time," said Ziade.

According to her, business began to diminish shortly after NAFTA was signed in 1994.

"After that, the market started getting flooded with cheap imported garments," she said. "It's really been an assault on our industry."

Ziade told WFMZ her business was three to four times bigger before the trade agreement.

"We were just one of many factories in Allentown back in the 1980s and 90s, and we've seen them close one after another," she said.

She believes that renegotiating NAFTA, placing tariffs on foreign goods, and lowering taxes would be a good start to helping her business.

She acknowledges, however, that the situation has changed greatly since the 90s.

"It's not Mexico anymore, competition is all over the world," she said. "You can't compete with the prices that factories in Vietnam and China can offer. You just can't do it."

But those prices are the other side of the coin.

One reason people support NAFTA is that it lowers prices of everyday items for consumers, and it makes it cheaper for many businesses to operate.

"I'm a free trader because it really, really impacts my bottom line," said Gary Ward, co-owner of Ward's Oriental Rug Service & Gallery in Allentown.

Ward cleans and sells rugs from countries around the world.

He's not affected by NAFTA, but he's a good example of what tariffs do.

"If the tariffs go up, the prices on my rugs are going to need to go up. Which means it's going to be more difficult or maybe even impossible for me depending on how high the tariffs go up to sell the carpet," he told 69 News.

Higher tariffs hurt his customers and hurt him.

"Most industries are touched by goods from other countries," he said. "We are all exposed, and we're susceptible to tariff increases."

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