Trump promised trade deals that are good for U.S. workers. This one isn’t — yet.
By HILLARY HADEN
(Aug. 28, 2018) — News broke Monday morning that President Trump had finally completed the trade agreement he promised the American people. In a press conference from the Oval Office, Trump announced that the United States and Mexico were going to sign a trade agreement together, and Canada could join later.
Frustration around the announcement was swift — from the Institute and Agriculture and Trade Policy calling it “misleading” and a “transparent bullying tactic” aimed at getting Canada to give in to U.S. demands, to the AFL-CIO calling the deal “not done.”
Notably, both the incoming and outgoing Mexican administrations and a number of U.S. lawmakers — both Republican and Democrat – called for the agreement to be trilateral, applying to all countries that were signatory to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) raised a critical issue for labor, that “it remains highly unclear whether there will be assured, substantial change in the status quo” on the issue of labor rights and enforcement in Mexico.
The announcement left a number of items unaddressed. Canada and Mexico have insisted through the negotiating process that they needed a deal with all three countries. During Monday’s press conference, Mexico President Peña Nieto repeatedly added to Trump’s commentary that it was important for his country that Canada be included moving forward. It remains unclear whether Mexico would sign this agreement bilaterally if Canada does not agree to what’s been negotiated.
Additionally, the announcement contained very few details aside from Trump stating how great, tremendous, and incredible his new agreement with Mexico was. The agreement does contain a 16-year sunset clause with a review every six years and some restrictions on Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
So what’s the rush just now to have an agreement? The incoming Mexican administration takes office on Dec. 1 and has said it would respect any deal that the prior administration signed. Under the timelines passed by the Mexican Congress, Peña Nieto has to give notice of his intent to sign a new agreement by Aug. 31 at the very latest.
From the beginning of the NAFTA renegotiations, civil society has been clear about what things we needed to see from a new agreement to earn our support. We must have strong, enforceable labor and environmental standards, periodic review, improvements on auto rules-of-origin and government procurement, and the removal of ISDS. Additionally, we’d like to see Mexico implement improved labor standards prior to the agreement taking effect.
The Trump administration has shown us time and time again that they were not sure what exactly they wanted from a new NAFTA with rhetoric that ranged from “NAFTA is the worst trade agreement ever signed” to “NAFTA just needs a few tweaks.”
Trump campaigned on the promise to give the American people a trade agreement that’s been negotiated with the interests of workers in mind. This agreement has plenty of sweet treats in it for global corporations, banks, and financial services, but it does not meet the expectations of labor or the rest of civil society.
If Trump wants to deliver on his promises, he should go back to the negotiating table and keep working until he’s got an agreement that’s good for workers, the environment, and public health. Much more work needs to be done.
Hillary Haden is Executive Director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition.