Pulling out of a key trade agreement with the nation's neighbors – a threat made Tuesday by President Donald Trump – would be "catastrophic," S.C. congressional leaders said Wednesday.
“Engagement with rest of the world has disproportionately benefited American citizens, American businesses and, ultimately, the American taxpayer,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, speaking to S.C. Chamber of Commerce members.
“What we're playing with here is incredibly dangerous,” Sanford added.
The lawmaker was referring to Trump’s threat Tuesday to pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
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At a campaign rally in Phoenix, Trump said he had not made a decision yet about NAFTA. But, he added, the United States would "end up probably terminating" NAFTA "at some point.”
"Personally," Trump said, "I don't think we can make a deal because we have been so badly taken advantage of."
Sanford said pulling out of the treaty would be bad for South Carolina and the nation.
“There's certainly a populous fervor out there, and it makes it sound appealing, but what the president is talking about going back and renegotiating NAFTA ... it would be catastrophic.”
Sanford appeared alongside U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, and U.S. Reps. Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach and Joe Wilson of Springdale at a S.C. Chamber roundtable.
Graham said he is worried about Trump’s threat to pull out of NAFTA, adding South Carolina has benefited more than any other state from foreign investment.
An overhaul of the mid-1990s trade deal with Canada and Mexico is underway. Goals include modernizing the pact to take into consideration more recent economic forces, such as internet commerce.
Opposing trade deals has been a Trump staple, playing off fears that global trade leads U.S. companies to move jobs overseas.
But the lawmakers Wednesday said the United States disproportionately has benefited from NAFTA.
“If you do that (back out of NAFTA), you will send an incredibly chilling effect to the rest of the world" regarding the United States' economic engagement abroad, Sanford said.
Graham also said Trump “missed the boat” in failing to quickly denounce Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi demonstrators who flocked to Charlottesville, Va., to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.
"There is a small group of people in this country and everywhere in the world that are just bad. Nazis are bad. The KKK are bad. There are some people on the left that are kind of outrageous,” Graham said.
“From a Republican point of view, we've got to let everybody in this country know of color, we see these people the same way as you do, and the president missed the boat there.”