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What might NAFTA changes mean locally?
Ray Updike works quality control at the bottling area for Minhas Brewery Monday. NAFTA, which may be subject to alteration by President Donald Trump, allows Minhas to easily distribute its products in Canada and the Midwest. If NAFTA is changed, it could make things more complicated for Minhas brewery in Calgary, according to Gary Olson, president of Minhas Brewery in Monroe. (Times photos: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - Although President Donald Trump has promised to severely alter NAFTA in the name of returning jobs to America, area businesses are uncertain as to whether they would benefit.

NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was established in 1994 and created a trilateral trade bloc between the United States, Canada and Mexico. The agreement eliminated most existing tariffs on imports and exports between the three countries since its inception.

However, Trump has repeatedly cast his ire upon NAFTA, calling it "the worst trade deal in history" during a debate in September and blaming it for encouraging manufacturers to seek cheaper labor in Mexico. Trump has repeatedly promised to rewrite - or end completely - NAFTA, although he has remained vague about his methods of doing so.

"It's unsettling that we don't know what the changes would be," said Gary Olson, president of Minhas Brewery in Monroe. "If we knew what he planned to do, then we could plan for it, but right now we're not sure what's going to happen."

Olson said NAFTA has helped Minhas' business substantially, as lack of tariffs has allowed the brewery to distribute its products in Canada and the Midwest.

"It's been a win-win for both of us: We get to sell in Canada, and the Canadians get to buy our beer," Olson said.

Minhas also has a brewery in Calgary, which Olson said would complicate matters if NAFTA is altered.

Greg Petras, president of farm equipment manufacturer Kuhn Knight in Brodhead, said Canada represents about 15 percent of his company's business, and the company has a warehouse in Quebec.

"NAFTA has definitely been working good for us," Petras said.

Although Petras said he had no desire to lose his Canadian clientele, he was uncertain as to what would happen if NAFTA is significantly altered.

"The currency difference is already causing its own problems, but if we start throwing tariffs in there, it's not going to be easy," Petras said.

Petras also was unhappy about the prospect of a trade war with Mexico, which may occur if NAFTA is repealed.

"Fifty percent of our exported corn grain goes to Mexico," Petras said, adding that, if that export market is no longer available, the American economy will suffer.

Dan Olson, operations manager of Orchid International in Monroe, had a different view.

"We don't really have any Canadian customers," he said. "Most of our products are sold in the U.S."

Dan Olson said changes to NAFTA could be beneficial to Orchid, which manufactures electrical steel components, and other U.S. businesses.

"We'll have less competition, so we might end up selling better," Dan Olson said.

Petras remained somewhat optimistic, saying that a renegotiation of NAFTA, instead of an outright repeal, might be beneficial to U.S. businesses and trade with Canada in the long run, but he ultimately reached the same conclusion as Gary Olson and Dan Olson: Wait and see.

"None of us have been through this sort of thing," Petras said. "Whatever happens, we'll do anything possible to mitigate the impact on our employees."