AFL-CIO, Allies Disappointed in Trump’s NAFTA Renegotiation Letter

Republican President Donald Trump’s formal letter notifying lawmakers that he intends to renegotiate NAFTA, the jobs-losing 23-year-old U.S.-Mexico-Canada “free trade” pact, doesn’t go far enough, the AFL-CIO and its allies say.

In particular, any new NAFTA must ensure Mexico not only lives up to international labor rights standards, but raises its wages to livable levels, congressional Democrats said.

The Economic Policy Institute calculates the trade pact cost up to a million U.S. industrial jobs since its enactment. On the campaign trail last year, Trump called NAFTA “a disaster,” but his letter says a lot less, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka notes.

“A good outcome is far from guaranteed” from the new bargaining, Trumka explained. “While the president has called NAFTA the worst trade deal in history, his administration has given conflicting signals as to its priorities, raising the prospect that some of NAFTA’s most problematic elements could remain intact.

In a new NAFTA, “we must elevate and effectively enforce workers’ rights and environmental standards, eliminate excessive corporate privileges, prioritize good jobs and safeguard democracy. This is the standard we will use to judge any renegotiation...We will continue to fight to fix a trade deal that wreaked havoc on working families.”

The Democrats concentrated on Mexico’s low wages, its failure to live up to universal labor standards, and the impact on U.S. factory workers. They’ll also focus on “who is involved in the negotiations,” and they want to kill its secret pro-corporate trade courts, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said. NAFTA benefited multinationals, who exercised huge influence on it.

“NAFTA’s ongoing damage to good paying jobs must end. This administration cannot rely on corporate advisors and lobbyists as past administrations have done. They must produce a rewritten NAFTA that puts working Americans ahead of corporations,” she added.

“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,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich. “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.”

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, also a top Dem on trade, reminded Trump he won last year in part because he drew voters with his blasts at NAFTA. That included union voters.  “The jobs and trade issue has become so important to our nation that it became the tipping point for this past presidential election in states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin,” said Kaptur.

“Renegotiating NAFTA is an opportunity to rectify” workers’ struggles since its passage. “The question remains whether President Trump will follow through as he promised them.” Levin, DeLauro and Kaptur are among the top Democrats on trade issues.