NAFTA Replacement: A Stroke Of Political Genius Or Another Sell-Out? (Video)

One of the ways Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination for president, and ultimately the White House, in 2016 was his opposition to other GOP contenders on MedicareSocial Securityhealthcare, and the Iraq war.

While the other Republican candidates proudly stood on their desire to slash and ultimately eliminate these “Socialist” programs, Donald Trump puffed out his chest and took traditionally Democratic positions on their preservation, even expansion.

These are the same stances that rocketed Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders to popularity.

The difference is, Sen. Sanders has for decades argued for Medicare-for-all and an expansion to Social Security. Donald Trump, on the other hand, contradicted the other Republicans because of social welfare programs’ popularity with the majority of the American people, Republican and Democrat alike.

We now know this was all classic Trump opportunism.

If he ever had any sincere intention to expand Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, Trump quickly reversed course upon taking the oath of office.

But another issue that factored significantly with the American people, and the mainstream media virtually ignored, regarded trade.

Republicans own the “free trade” deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China that have decimated the American manufacturing base.

The majority of Democrats have, by and large, opposed them.

Trump promised to “re-negotiate” these deals instead of lying about how they’ve strengthened the economy.

Sincere or not, Trump was at least correct about the damage these trade deals have done.

Last week, Canadian, Mexican, and American government officials signed a revision to NAFTA, seeking to improve worker rights’ protections, and eliminating a patent provision that tamps down prices for biologic drugs.

But before we give Trump all the credit (which he will undoubtedly claim), we must understand how “do-nothing” House Democrats were able to counter the talking point they are unable to impeach and legislate at the same time, and pushed through a more progressive, pro-union alternative.

The three countries agreed to the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) last October, but the Democratically controlled House of Representatives raised concerns about how it enforced labor and environmental standards.

The re-write at the time failed to resolve American tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum exports.

Specific recommendations for improving labor provisions included:

  • Incorporating standards and their interpretations through cases and reports reflecting the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO)-adopted freedom of association, collective bargaining, discrimination, forced labor, child labor, and workplace safety and health standards;
  • Removing the footnote that overtly limits the terms of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work;
  • Omitting the requirement that labor violations must affect intra-party trade or investment;
  • Omitting “sustained or recurring” labor violations requirement;
  • Verifying that signatories must honor and enforce labor standards before the agreement goes into effect.

Not a single one was included.

As the AFL-CIO’s recent Executive Council Statement explains:

 “[T]he NAFTA renegotiation requires strong labor rights provisions and strong enforcement provisions that as of today are not yet in the agreement.”

Two months ago, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

“What’s magic about this year? I don’t care whether it’s November, December, January or November of next year. When the agreement is worthy of the American people, we’ll vote on it. And if it isn’t, we’ll oppose it.”

Shortly after reclaiming the majority in the House of Representatives at the beginning of this year, senior Democrats criticized the trade deal as “incomplete,” “flawed and dangerous,” “likely a dead-end in a Democratic House of Representatives.”

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi refused to advance the trade deal without Trumka’s approval.

Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) expressed agreement:

“I think everyone would acknowledge that Trumka is key.”

So Pelosi summoned Trumka to Capitol Hill last month.

Last week’s revision addresses those concerns, providing more robust labor regulations to reduce Mexico’s low-wage benefit that includes independent businesses’ labor compliance verification.

At a closed-door caucus meeting last week, Pelosi asserted:

 “You know what I’ve said: These have been the fights. And we stayed on this, and we ate their lunch.”

Many progressives are pointing out, however, the AFL-CIO supported the Keystone XL pipeline and criticized the Green New Deal.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM)’s President, Robert Martinez Jr., recently released the following statement opposing the USMCA:

“Our ability to comment in detail on this agreement is impaired because in the rush to consider such a proposal, we have not even been given the opportunity to review the full agreement in writing. U.S. workers have been waiting for over 25 years for a responsible trade deal that puts their interests ahead of corporations who are fleeing our shores. They are still waiting. The IAM will oppose NAFTA 2.0.”

Authors of an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report, Thea M. Lee and Robert E. Scott, conclude the USMCA amounts to “Band-Aids on a fundamentally flawed agreement and process.”

Robert E. Scott told In These Times:

“The aerospace has been hard hit by outsourcing to Mexico. Their members are very concerned. I don’t think there’s anything in there for them. Very transactional deal.”

As In These Times reports:

“While Pelosi worked diligently to pass USMCA, she’s failed to move a robust pro-labor bill forward in the House. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) was introduced in May by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). The bill would make it easier for workers to join unions, extinguish right-to-work laws, crack down on union-busting, address employee misclassification and provide new protections for collective bargaining. The bill already passed the House Committee on Education and Labor earlier this fall.”

Some claim USMCA hands Donald Trump a victory at the very time he is geared up for re-election and defending his political career against Wednesday’s impeachment vote.

Others argue it was Nancy Pelosi’s masterful stroke to disprove right-wing media and those believing the president’s lie about Democrats grinding the legislative process to a halt.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.