If you support workers’ rights, clean air and water, and climate protections, you probably oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). And you’re probably not a big fan of Donald Trump either.
But here’s the catch – Trump also opposes NAFTA. Does this mean that progressives and Trump share a surprisingly common vision for trade?
In fact, progressives and Trump form two opposing sides in a battle that’s currently underway for the future of U.S. trade policy. The stakes are high, as resulting trade deals could impact everything from the wages we earn to the health of our families to the depth of the climate crisis.
There are actually three competing visions for the future of trade deals:
- The corporate vision: more NAFTA deals that prioritize the profits of multinational corporations over the stability of our jobs, communities, and climate – under the guise of “free trade”
- Trump’s vision: replacing NAFTA with deals that prioritize the profits of U.S. corporations that Trump happens to like, including the Big Oil and Wall Street firms running his cabinet – under the guise of putting “America first”
- Our people-centered vision: replacing NAFTA with an entirely new approach to trade that prioritizes the needs of people and our planet over corporate profits
Last year, a movement of millions, motivated by the people-centered vision for trade, defeated the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – an embodiment of the corporate vision. As the TPP’s demise opened a trade policy vacuum, Trump stepped in to try and fill it. He claimed credit for the death of the TPP and promised an “America first” alternative that would benefit U.S. workers.
But thus far, Trump’s “alternative” trade agenda looks more like an attempt to dust off the defunct TPP and wrap it in Trump-branded nationalist packaging. Trump’s draft plan for renegotiating NAFTA recently emerged, revealing an intent to copy and paste many of the TPP’s corporate handouts. Meanwhile, Trump has stocked his cabinet with billionaires from ExxonMobil and Goldman Sachs who are no friends to workers or the environment.
Currently the administration is divided on the path forward, with some of Trump’s billionaire advisors pushing for trade deals that expand the corporate model of NAFTA and the TPP, while others push for a more isolationist approach that would boost the profits of a narrower set of the Trump administration’s corporate insiders.
As the administration fights over which corporations will reap the benefits of Trump trade, the movement that defeated the TPP offers a fundamentally different alternative: rewriting trade as if people and our planet actually mattered more than corporations.
For example, last week the Sierra Club and other leading environmental organizations released an eight-point platform for replacing NAFTA’s legacy of pollution with a deal that would protect our air and water. The Sierra Club also has put out a set of concrete proposals for climate-friendly trade, while partner organizations have suggested similar proposals to benefit workers, family farmers, and consumers. We need your help to push forward this alternative trade agenda – click here for a toolkit.
Stitched together, such proposals offer a people-centered vision for trade that will contrast sharply, in four ways, from any self-serving corporate agenda that emerges from Trump. All indications are that Trump’s trade agenda will be:
- Written by corporations in Trump’s cabinet: Several of the Wall Street billionaires and corporate polluters who fill Trump’s administration seem bent on crafting Trump’s trade policy behind closed doors. If so, you can bet that the resulting trade deals will pad their pockets at the expense of working people, clean air and water, and the health of our families. A people-centered approach to trade will not come from backroom dealmaking by Trump’s corporate cronies, but from an open trade transformation process that puts the public at the center.
- A handout to Big Oil and a threat to our climate: With ExxonMobil and coal CEOs helping to drive Trump’s trade agenda, we risk trade deals that boost even further the power and profits of corporate polluters, spelling more polluted air, more contaminated drinking water, and increased flooding of our coastlines. The people-centered vision for trade is 180-degrees different. We want trade deals that support the transition to clean energy, while Trump’s advisors contemplate trade rules that would make it harder for governments to prioritize wind and solar. We want trade deals that back up the Paris climate agreement, while Trump has promised to undermine Paris.
- An anti-union agenda cloaked in a pro-worker sales pitch: Trump claims that his trade policies will help U.S. workers, though he has consistently attacked unions and exploited cheap labor for his own businesses. The proof is in the pudding. Trump’s recently-revealed draft NAFTA renegotiation plan“leaves standing the worst and most oppressive parts of NAFTA,” according to AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. Will this be Trump’s approach to trade policy – tweeting out his support for workers while selling out workers with rewarmed corporate deals? We need a transformation of our trade policy that puts working people at the center – not more empty Twitter boasts.
- Rooted in xenophobia: Trump’s “America first” trade agenda wrongly paints trade policy as a contest between the U.S. and other countries. In reality, for decades it has been a contest between big corporations and the rest of us. When trade deals allow corporations to continually offshore jobs in search of the lowest wages, workers everywhere lose job security and bargaining power. When trade rules help Big Oil skirt our climate protections, people face the impacts of rising seas and worsening storms from Louisiana to Bangladesh. By contrast, a people-centered approach to trade would create a solid floor of labor, climate, and environmental standards, boosting workers’ wages and protecting families’ health from Michigan to Mexico. Instead, Trump’s trade vision is distorted by border walls and racist slurs. Such a xenophobic vision violates our values and fails our communities, both here and abroad.
With so much at stake, we cannot allow Trump to fill the post-TPP void with his backwards trade agenda. Now is our moment to build broad support for a new approach centered on people and planet. To that end, the Sierra Club is talking with communities across the country – asking what they want to see in a new trade model, refining our proposals, and building power across diverse constituencies that have common cause in seeking change.
Through such engagement, we can build a movement for a new trade agenda that’s even broader and larger than the one that defeated the TPP. You can help by taking action today. If we do our work, when Trump and his self-serving corporate trade vision are gone, our people-powered vision will be ready to go.