Despite low unemployment rates, many Americans are still struggling to rebound from the Great Recession of 2008, and they continue to face far too many barriers to economic success. Food, beverage, and consumer product manufacturers provide much-needed economic stability in 30,000 small and medium-size communities across America. They offer an opportunity for increased job creation that is unparalleled. While other manufacturing jobs have declined, grocery manufacturing jobs have steadily risen.

But if we want to preserve these jobs and keep stamping “Made in America” on our food, we need to maintain tariff-free access in North America and remove other non-tariff obstacles that currently stand in our way.

When NAFTA modernization talks begin, we urge the Trump Administration, Congress, and other stakeholders to protect and expand the benefits of free trade for consumers, U.S. food and beverage manufacturers, and our employees.

Grocery manufacturing is the single largest source of manufacturing jobs in the U.S., with 2.1 million employees across the country.

And the fruit of their labor is significant for American consumers, who enjoy tens of thousands of products at affordable prices as a result of this work. Americans spend less of their disposable income on food than consumers in any other industrialized economy in the world – a significant factor for hardworking families facing tight budget constraints.

NAFTA eliminated many barriers and cleared the way for food manufacturers to grow exports – thus supporting increased job creation and consumer choice. Nevertheless, much has changed in the more than 20 years since NAFTA was negotiated.

With its commitment to putting America first and supporting U.S. manufacturing jobs, the Trump Administration now has an opportunity to keep those barriers clear and spur additional job growth. There are number of ways to do this.

First, we must keep North American trade tariff-free.

Prior to NAFTA some American exports, like chocolate confections and meat, were not competitive in foreign markets because of high tariffs –  20 percent or higher – which stymied job creation here at home. NAFTA eliminated these prohibitive tariffs, creating an opportunity for U.S. food manufacturers to expand and add jobs.

Today, nearly half of all U.S. food exports go to Mexico and Canada – $17.6 billion dollars’ worth in 2016. Returning to pre-NAFTA tariff levels would destroy this relationship and devastate job creation efforts in the U.S.  

But it would be a mistake to focus only on tariff-barriers. We also need to look at other barriers that can raise prices for consumers and hurt U.S. manufacturing jobs.

U.S. employees and manufacturers are among the greatest in the world; they can go head-to-head with any other companies on the planet and come out on top – as long as they’re competing on a level playing field.

NAFTA should be further strengthened to ensure rules and standards are equal and fair. The rules should be based on science and not discriminate against U.S. products. These steps will go a long way towards reducing barriers and leveling that playing field for our manufacturers – and this will set the gold standard for future U.S. trade agreements.

In addition, unnecessary regulatory differences among our trade partners must be streamlined.

Even small differences among U.S., Canadian, and Mexican regulations can result in increased costs for manufacturers and ultimately, consumers.  NAFTA modernization can reduce these costs by allowing employers to provide input on regulatory differences with the goal of decreasing unnecessary variances in product testing, certification and labeling standards.

With these protections and changes, a modernized NAFTA agreement will put American jobs first, and continue to keep food prices low and choices high for American consumers.  That’s something our families, and our country’s overall economic success, is depending on.