Trump’s Latest Failure: A NAFTA Nothingburger

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump was fond of promising that on “day one” of his presidency he would “announce” plans to “totally renegotiate” NAFTA – the 1994 trade deal between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. For the first 118 days, he failed to present any such plan.  

On day 119 – May 18th – the Trump administration managed to send Congress roughly one page of vague statements about NAFTA. The content-free letter started a 90-day period before NAFTA renegotiation can begin.

The most remarkable feature of Trump’s announcement was what it failed to include: anything resembling a plan to fix a deal that has eliminated jobs, eroded wages, undermined climate protections, and polluted our air and water for over two decades.

We cannot afford more empty rhetoric. We need a serious plan to replace NAFTA with a new deal that prioritizes people and our planet, not corporate polluters. It’s no mystery what this plan should include. Leading environmental organizations, unions, consumer groups, and family farmers have all detailed the fundamental changes that must be in any NAFTA renegotiation.

Will Trump adopt these changes? Will he work to replace NAFTA with a deal that supports good union jobs, livable wages, climate justice, clean air and water, and healthy communities? Given that he has stacked his cabinet with Wall Street billionaires who support corporate trade deals, job offshoring, and climate denial, that’s not what we’d wager.

The first test for Trump’s NAFTA renegotiation is how the deal will be negotiated. It will only benefit the public if the negotiation process is conducted in the open, not in a corporate board room. The secretive, corporate-dominated negotiating system that produced NAFTA must be replaced by one in which proposals and negotiating texts are posted online, and the public is invited to comment on trade rules that would impact their jobs, wages, health, air, and water.

But nothing in Trump’s NAFTA announcement indicates that this is the direction he’s heading. The corporate trade negotiating system that produced NAFTA remains intact for Trump’s NAFTA redux. Without a transparent process, one could be forgiven for suspecting that the Trump administration may try to use the renegotiation to pad the profits of the corporate polluters that fill his own cabinet.

Here’s another clear test for Trump’s NAFTA renegotiation: Does it eliminate the special protections for corporations that enable them to offshore jobs and attack our environmental and health laws in tribunals of corporate lawyers? This is a bright line test – either NAFTA’s replacement allows polluters to sue governments in corporate tribunals, or it doesn’t.

Trump’s one-page NAFTA letter fails to say anything about this. But his more detailed NAFTA plan that leaked in March bluntly committed to “maintain” this handout to corporate polluters and job offshorers. So much for “totally renegotiating” NAFTA.

There are a host of additional changes that must be made to NAFTA to reverse the deal’s damage – none of which made it into Trump’s NAFTA letter. For example, to replace NAFTA’s race to the bottom in labor and environmental standards with a race to the top, a new deal should require each country to adopt living wages, enact policies to implement the Paris climate agreement, and penalize carbon-intensive imports.

And to align NAFTA with our efforts to tackle climate change, rules that encourage increased fossil fuel dependency must be replaced with rules that accelerate our clean energy transition. For example, a NAFTA replacement should facilitate the use of climate criteria in spending and regulatory decisions to boost the creation of renewable energy jobs.

Again, is this the NAFTA renegotiation that Trump has in mind?  Not according to his cabinet members. Trump’s Commerce Secretary – a billionaire former coal CEO who offshored jobs before becoming the head of Trump’s trade team – has explicitly stated that the defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have expanded NAFTA’s threats to workers and the environment, could serve as the “starting point” for Trump’s NAFTA renegotiation.

If Trump’s NAFTA 2.0 does indeed become an attempt to revive the TPP, it will face vigorous opposition from the same movement of millions – across sectors, borders, and party lines – that defeated the TPP in the first place.

By burying the TPP, that movement loudly called for an entirely new approach to trade that benefits working families and healthy communities, not corporate insiders. Early signs indicate that Trump intends to head in precisely the opposite direction. It’s up to us to stop him.

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