Nafta successfully met its primary task of increasing trade and investment in Canada, Mexico and the United States, but it’s time now to look at furthering those goals in order to face increased international competition, said the Atlanta-based consuls general for Mexico and Canada during a panel discussion on Nafta’s impact last week.

Georgia’s deputy commissioner for economic development, Carlos Martel, agreed with Remedios Gomez-Arnau, Mexico’s consul general and dean of Atlanta’s consular corps, and Canada’s consul general, Malcolm McKechnie.

Mr. Martel told attendees of the Atlanta Council on International Relations event, “Nafta’s been very good for the U.S., and certainly for Georgia. But the focus now should be on what we need to do to move forward.”

Since Nafta began 10 years ago, 90,000 jobs have been created in Georgia that are associated with exports to Canada and Mexico, three times more than when the agreement began, Mr. Martel said.

According to Mr. McKechnie, Nafta has also “done plenty for Canada,” adding, “It has provided new opportunities and competitive pressures, both of which have made our manufacturing companies more efficient and have changed Canada’s industrial structure.”

Besides providing ready access to North America’s 420 million consumers, Mr. McKechnie said Nafta holds the promise of allowing North Americans to compete efficiently against other regions of the world, China and the European Union in particular.

He added that despite still-existing trade disputes, two-way trade between Canada and the U.S. has reached some $442 billion annually, a 215 percent increase since Nafta began.

Canadian-Mexican trade has benefited as well, Mr. McKechnie said, with Mexico now ranked as Canada’s fourth largest source of imports and its fifth largest export destination.

But Ms. Gomez-Arnau said while “Mexico as a country is a winner with Nafta,” it is not as huge a winner as many expected.

She said Mexico’s total exports have tripled since Nafta, reaching $165 billion in 2003. Now, Mexico is the eighth largest exporter in the world and the largest exporter in Latin America, she said.

However, the benefits have been primarily for certain sectors, regions and companies. While manufacturing has benefited from Nafta, agriculture has not. It now represents less than 2 percent of Mexico’s total exports, she said.

Ms. Gomez-Arnau, like Mr. McKechnie, addressed the need to explore further economic integration between the three countries in order to strengthen the region’s global competitiveness.

For more information on the Atlanta Council on International Relations, call Francesca Cesa Bianchi at (404) 832-5560 ext. 11.