Since being established in 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement – better known as NAFTA – has triggered job losses, depressed wages and shifted more power to corporations.
Now, the Trump administration has notified Congress it plans to “modernize” the horrible trade deal, giving working families an historic opportunity to shape a better trade policy with our closest neighbors.
What might a better NAFTA look like?
The nation’s largest labor federation, the AFL-CIO, issued several recommendations last month, urging federal lawmakers to “begin constructing a Global New Deal for working families” in revisiting NAFTA this summer. The first step, labor leaders say, is to amend NAFTA in public, with broad input from workers and their organizations.
“This is more than just (about) trade,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters during a media call last month. “We’ll fight hard to rewrite these rules so that workers will get a fair shot of getting more of what they produce.”
Other AFL-CIO’s recommendations include enforceable worker-rights guarantees in the U.S., Mexico and Canada, as well as strong “Buy America” provisions, long a top priority for the United Steelworkers and other industrial unions.
“Our position is simple: Unless steel is melted and poured in the U.S., it shouldn’t be covered” by NAFTA, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said. “Does the country want 25 more years like the last 25 years, with a declining standard of living for workers in all three countries?”
Other union proposals include eliminating extrajudicial courts that give corporations an end around local governments, strengthening environmental protections and adding language that will protect consumers, crack down on corporate tax dodgers and prevent currency manipulation.
While Trump’s interest in renegotiating NAFTA has sparked some optimism for better trade policy, some fair trade activists warned against getting too excited. Already, Trump has “walked back” several of his trade-related promises from the campaign, including a pledge to name China a currency manipulator, Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition director Kaela Berg said.
The Fair Trade Coalition, which brings together labor, environmental, family-farm and other progressive groups, is mobilizing volunteers locally to hold Trump accountable during the NAFTA “modernization” process.
“He promised American workers … a new kind of trade deal that would put them first, ensure safety on the job site, raise wages and punish countries that manipulated their currency to gain unfair advantages in the marketplace,” Berg said. “President Trump has not kept his promises to working families.”
Corporate lobbyists, according to Berg, are already approaching NAFTA talks as an opportunity to revive the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“We know that 500 of the corporate advisors responsible for the TPP have been consulted about the NAFTA negotiations, while labor, Congress and the public have once again been kept in the dark,” she said.
Meanwhile, Trump’s proposal to gut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency sums up the likelihood of a new NAFTA that includes enforceable environmental protections.
Still, the debate over NAFTA’s future is too important to sit out, Berg acknowledged.
“We must hold President Trump accountable for his promise to stop the damage that NAFTA continues to do,” she said. “We must demand that he put people and the planet before profits in the new NAFTA.”
This article includes reporting by Mark Gruenberg of Press Associates International, a union news service.