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NAFTA-linked trade critical to NM exports

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico was a late-comer to trade through the North American Free Trade Agreement, but it’s made up for a lot of lost ground in the past decade.

Exports to Mexico and Canada represented barely 16 percent of the state’s total exports worldwide in 2006, more than a decade after NAFTA took effect. But last year, those countries accounted for 47 percent of New Mexico’s exports, reflecting the state’s aggressive efforts to take advantage of NAFTA in the past 10 years.

Mexico absorbs the lion’s share, with exports there peaking at $1.68 billion in 2015, up from just $258 million 10 years before. That robust growth has converted Santa Teresa in southern New Mexico into a bustling industrial border hub, while providing new growth opportunities for businesses in other major cities throughout the state.

Exports to Canada also grew markedly after 2006, from $199 million that year to a peak of $352 million in 2011. But in contrast to Mexico, sales to Canada have fallen back recently to a low of $139 million in 2016.

The decline may in part reflect the crash in world oil prices since 2014, which crippled Canadian oil and gas production and shrank the market for energy-related equipment from New Mexico companies, said Robert Queen, director of the U.S. Commerce Department’s New Mexico Export Assistance Center in El Paso. The high value of the U.S. currency in recent years also likely contributed to the decline, because a strong dollar makes exports to other countries more expensive.

Trade through NAFTA helped push New Mexico’s overall export income to an all-time peak of $3.8 billion in 2014, although sales worldwide have fallen a bit since then.

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