Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, June 1, 2 or 3
Lighthizer’s notice triggered a 90-day period of consultation with legislators after which talks with Canada and Mexico could start.
However, the administration is either wildly inconsistent about trade or bowing to interests that aren’t the working Americans it appealed to during the campaign. Last June, Donald Trump criticized NAFTA as “the worst trade deal in … the history of this country,” pledging that “I’m going to tell our NAFTA partners that I intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal – by a lot, not just a little, by a lot – for our workers.”
Meanwhile, besides warning Mexico that he’ll seek a 20-percent tariff on its imports to cover costs for his expensive border wall, Trump also threatened a 20-percent tariff against Canada, the nation’s second-largest trading partner, and its soft-lumber sector, and even said he was considering terminating the U.S.-South Korea trad deal negotiated by the George W. Bush administration.
NAFTA – taking effect in 1994 and backed by Republican George H.W. Bush and corporate Democrat Bill Clinton – increased trade between the three countries, but it also encouraged U.S. manufacturers to relocate plants to low-wage Mexico. NAFTA cost the U.S. economy up to 1 million jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Nevertheless, Trump in March issued a feeble eight-page letter “clarifying” that he’d seek to keep NAFTA largely intact.
So: Talk is cheap, even tough talk – especially with formidable opposition from industry and agribusiness to Trump’s imposing tariffs or renegotiating trade agreements.
At a recent speech at Georgetown University, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt said, “Protectionism makes the U.S. look weak, not strong.”
Although candidate Trump said his “America First” approach would fight unfair foreign competition, agribusiness argues that it benefited from NAFTA. For example, annual U.S. exports to Mexico including corn, soybeans and pork more than quadrupled, to some $18 billion since 1994.
And it’s political. Wesley Spurlock of the National Corn Growers Association wrote an open letter to Trump saying, “Mr. President, America's corn farmers helped elect you. Withdrawing from NAFTA would be disastrous for American agriculture.”
But the back-pedaling, if not betrayal, angers AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who said Trump’s “tweaking” of NAFTA falls short.
“This draft leaves standing the worst and most oppressive parts of NAFTA,” Trumka said. “It leaves in place the right of foreign investors to sue the U.S. in private tribunals in order to skirt health, safety and environmental laws. On other important issues – including rules of origin for automobiles, labor and environmental standards, currency misalignment and procurement – the draft plan is either silent or vague.
“Rewriting the rules of our economy, and specifically changing the way we do trade, was one of the most important issues that voters went to the polls on,” Trumka continued. “If the president wants to keep his promises, he needs to bring that same tough stance he had on the campaign trail.”
The AFL-CIO issued a list of 10 points necessary to make NAFTA a fair-trade deal. Any renegotiation must raise wages and standards for workers, not further tilt our economy to benefit the wealthy few, the labor federation said, listing a blueprint:
* No more private justice system for foreign investors;
* New powerful rules on the environment and strong, enforceable labor rights;
* No currency manipulation;
* Honest rules on “country of origin,” especially for autos and parts;
* Open the process and give working people a seat at the table;
* Aggressively enforce workers’ rights and environmental standards;
* Eliminate special privileges for corporations;
* Safeguard democracy; and
* No undermining of “Buy America” rules.
A key component, progressives have asserted, is establishing and enforcing labor standards.
“In meetings to date, the administration evaded questions about a core problem with NAFTA: A wholly deficient labor regime in Mexico that kept wages low and workers without the rights to change the system,” U.S. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) told Press Associates. “There will be no change in NAFTA, and there will be no stemming the loss of the U.S. jobs, unless this issue of labor costs is fully addressed. It must be front and center in any renegotiation.”
[PICTURED: Teamsters protest NAFTA. Photo from resurgent.com.]