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Commentary: North Dakota needs NAFTA. Period.

In the heat being generated in the debate over the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement keep one thing in mind: For North Dakota, there is no debate. North Dakota needs NAFTA. Period.

Facts are indeed stubborn things and the fact is North Dakota is one of the most export-dependent states in the country. Every sector of our economy — agriculture, energy, manufacturing and retail — rely on, and benefits from, NAFTA. Withdrawing from this trade agreement would deliver a crippling blow to our state's economy, which could jeopardize the bottom lines of the 1,804 North Dakota companies that export and the jobs of approximately 34,000 North Dakotans whose paychecks come from trading with our northern and southern neighbors.

Independent analysis after independent analysis verifies how critical NAFTA is to North Dakota. If you need any further proof, consider these numbers:

• At 85 percent, North Dakota leads the nation in terms of the share of our total exports going to Canada and Mexico.

• An astounding 98 percent of North Dakota's grains, oil and gas exports go to Canada and Mexico.

• 73 percent of North Dakota's manufactured goods are exported to Canada and Mexico. In fact, 50 percent of all N.D. exports go directly to Canada.

• The amount of goods exported from the state's largest cities — Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks — is $884 million most of which go to, you guessed it: Canada and Mexico.

NAFTA has been in existence since 1994. It was the first in a series of landmark trade agreements that knocked down barriers and opened new markets to U.S. goods, which has

especially benefited land-locked states like North Dakota.

Since 2005, the rate of growth in exports from N.D. to Canada, Mexico and other free trade agreement nations has been 374 percent.

Numbers like these do more than punctuate a point. They serve as a demarcation line in time. There was a North Dakota before NAFTA and there is a North Dakota with NAFTA. A North Dakota without NAFTA is a state we dare not imagine.

This is especially true for our farmers. Already, there are discussions in Mexico about raising tariffs on American wheat from zero to 67 percent if the U.S. withdraws from NAFTA. This would be a direct hit felt on rural main streets across North Dakota.

Now, is NAFTA perfect? No. There is no such thing as a perfect trade agreement. But is it the devil some of its critics have made it out to be? Certainly not. And, for American policymakers, reasonable changes and modifications should be pursued to strengthen, rather than strangle, this agreement. But, for North Dakota, the facts speak for themselves: NAFTA has been a lifeline creating new jobs, new opportunities, and new wealth for thousands of North Dakotans.

When it comes to NAFTA, there is no debate but there are only two outcomes: North Dakota either continues to win with NAFTA or North Dakota will surely lose without it. Period.