Rene Diaz, the chief executive of Atlanta-based Diaz Foods, is a fan of the North American Free Trade Agreement. “In my mind,” he said, “it’s created opportunity.”

Food distributor: NAFTA helps his business, makes for good neighbors

The business he knows best is food and NAFTA has been very good for his business, said Rene Diaz, the chief executive of Diaz Foods.

Started as Diaz Market in 1969 and transformed in 1980 into Diaz Foods, the Atlanta-based company has grown to be one of the nation’s leading distributors of Hispanic foods, with customers in 25 states.

His pro-NAFTA views meld practicality and ideology: “I’m not a fan of limited trade. Let capitalism do its job.”

In his view, the North American Free Trade Agreement may not be perfect, but it has outperformed expectations.

He remembers truckers being concerned that their jobs would disappear. Instead, the surge of trade has only raised demand for transport — especially since so much of Mexican commerce comes via land.

“In my mind, it’s created opportunity,” Diaz said. “I am for a NAFTA that improves America. If you rip it up, it’ll hurt people on both sides of the border.”

Mexico is the main source of produce for Diaz Foods, much of it shipped in when the colder American climate shuts down many crops.

Mexico has always had longer growing seasons, but NAFTA has made the shipments quicker, more efficient and cheaper: Much of the produce is brought right from the fields across the border, temporarily stored in U.S. warehouses and then transported to Atlanta by American truckers.

“It used to take two weeks,” Diaz said. “If I need product now, I call on Monday and I have it here on Wednesday.”

Take away NAFTA and the process would get clumsier.

“It wouldn’t hurt me because I’m a distributor, so whatever I pay, I just add 20 percent and pass it on,” Diaz said. “So for the company it may be neutral. But the consumer, what happens to the consumer?”

Inflation has been modest for several decades, and the price of food has been a big part of that, he said. “We haven’t seen food prices go up, some are nearly the same as 15 or 16 years ago,” Diaz said. “If you kill NAFTA, what do you think that will do to the price of stuff we import from Mexico?”

The value of U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico is five times the value of exports to China, he said. “The way I see this is real simple,” Diaz said. “They are on our borders. I want my neighbors to be friends of mine, not enemies. I want more trade with my neighbors, not less.’”

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