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Cheat Sheet: NAFTA’s Mixed Track Record Since 1994

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Cheat Sheet: NAFTA's Mixed Track Record Since 1994

NAFTA’s Mixed Track Record

Cheat sheet sums up the results of North American trade since 1994

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

On January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) officially came into effect, virtually eliminating all tariffs and trade restrictions between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Bill Clinton, who lobbied extensively to get the deal done, said it would encourage other nations to work towards a broader world-trade pact. “NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs,” said Clinton, as he signed the document, “If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t support this agreement.”

Ross Perot had a contrary perspective. Lobbying heavily against the agreement, he noted that if it was ratified, Americans would hear a giant “sucking sound” as jobs went south of the border to Mexico.

It’s a Complicated World

Fast forward 20 years, and NAFTA is a hot-button issue again. Donald Trump has said he is working on “renegotiating” the agreement, and many Americans are sympathetic to this course of action.

However, coming to a decisive viewpoint on NAFTA’s success or failure can be difficult to achieve. Over two decades, the economic and political landscape has changed. China has risen and created a surplus of cheap labor, technology has changed massively, and central banks have kept the spigots on with QE and ultra-low interest rates. Deciphering what results have been the direct cause of NAFTA – and what is simply the result of a fast-changing world – is not quite straightforward.

In today’s chart, we break down a variety of metrics on the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to give a “before” and “after” story. The result is a mixed bag, but it will at least paint a picture of how the nations have fared comparatively since the agreement came into effect in 1994.

NAFTA: A Mixed Track Record

On the plus side, NAFTA created the world’s largest free trade area of 450 million people, where trade between the three members quadrupled from $297 billion to $1.14 trillion during the period of 1993-2015.

Further, the agreement likely had the effect of lowering prices for consumers, especially for food, automobiles, clothing, and electronics. It also reduced U.S. reliance on oil from OPEC. In 1994, the United States got 59% of its oil imports from OPEC, but that number is reduced to 44% today as trade with Canada has ramped up. Canada is now the #1 source of foreign oil in the United States.

NAFTA has also unequivocally led to the movement of auto jobs. While the amount of autos manufactured in North America has increased from 12.5 million (1990) to 18.1 million (2016), the share of that production has shifted.

North American Auto Production by Share

YearCanadaMexicoUSATotal Car/Trucks Produced in North America
199016%6%78%12.5 million
200717%13%70%15.4 million
201613%20%67%18.1 million

Mexico now produces 20% of all vehicles in North America – and U.S./Canadian shares have shifted down accordingly over the years. The ultimate result is the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs in both Michigan and Ontario, Canada.

As a final note, we also looked at comparing macroeconomic indicators from 1980-1993 (“Pre-NAFTA”) with those from 1994-2016 (“Post-NAFTA”).

For the U.S. in particular, here’s what has changed:

MetricPre-NAFTA (1980-1993)Post-NAFTA (1994-2016)Change
Avg. Real GDP Growth2.8%2.5%-0.3%
Avg. Unemployment Rate7.1%5.9%-1.2%
Annual Growth in Exports5.7%4.9%-0.9%
Annual Growth in GDP per Capita (PPP)5.9%3.3%-2.6%
Average Gini Coefficient (Inequality)34.237.43.2

This is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis, but it gives a snapshot of what has changed since NAFTA was ratified.

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Which Retailers Operate in the Most Countries?

From fast-fashion giant H&M to Apple, we show the top retailers globally with the largest international presence.

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This treemap shows the top retailers operating in the most countries in 2023.

The Top Retailers Operating in the Most Countries

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Today, international expansion is a key growth strategy for the world’s top retailers as companies target untapped markets with the highest potential to drive revenue and profit streams.

While traditional retailers have sought out digital strategies as the industry evolves and consumer behaviors change, physical storefronts continue to be a dominant driver of retail sales. In 2023, brick-and-mortar sales comprised 81% of retail sales globally.

This graphic shows the top retailers operating in the most markets worldwide, based on data from the National Retail Federation.

Global Retailers With the Largest International Footprint

Here are the global retailers with the widest-reaching presence around the world in 2023:

RankingRetailerNumber of Countries of First-Party OperationHeadquarters
1H&M68🇸🇪 Sweden
2IKEA51🇳🇱 Netherlands
3Inditex45🇪🇸 Spain
4Decathlon34🇫🇷 France
5Carrefour32🇫🇷 France
6Sephora (LVMH)31🇫🇷 France
7Schwarz Group30🇩🇪 Germany
8Fast Retailing27🇯🇵 Japan
9Euronics International25🇳🇱 Netherlands
10Apple25🇺🇸 U.S.

Notably, eight of the top 10 companies with the widest market reach hail from Europe.

Fast-fashion giant H&M ranks first overall, with 4,454 stores across 68 countries last year. In 2023, the Swedish company earned $21.6 billion in revenues, with its largest markets by number of store locations being the U.S., Germany, and the UK. This year, it plans to open 100 new stores in growth markets, along with shutting down 160 stores in established locations, ultimately decreasing its global store count.

In second is IKEA, with a presence in 51 countries. Last year, the company expanded its footprint in India, launching its first store in the tech hub, Hyderabad. While the company has a broad international reach, its number of storefronts is a fraction of H&M, at 477 total stores worldwide.

Looking beyond the continent, Japan’s Fast Retailing is the top retailer in Asia, operating in 27 countries globally. As the parent company to fashion brand Uniqlo, it also stands as the seventh most valuable listed firm by market capitalization in the country.

Additionally, Apple is the sole American company to make this list, with storefronts in 25 countries. Overall, the company operates four types of retail stores: regular, AppleStore+, flagships, and flagship+. Regular stores often earn $40 million annually, while flagship+ stores typically earn more than $100 million.

By 2027, the company plans to build or remodel 53 stores globally, with the majority located in the U.S. and China.

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