President Trump won the 2016 election as a populist, railing against the devastations of NAFTA, the WTO, and the awful Trans-Pacific Partnership. In vowing to overturn NAFTA, he was able to win the votes in swing states by acknowledging the precarity and pain wrought by the planned offshoring of our once massive industrial base, and consequent job losses. Trump’s ongoing scapegoating of migrant victims of the neoliberal model and NAFTA as a campaign strategy, however proves he is not really serious about challenging the status quo. Unsurprisingly, Trump’s NAFTA makeover doubles-down on all the democracy-killing inclusions we hate about free trade agreements. We must now acknowledge that pain, and break free from the neoliberal free-for-all that enshrines corporate governance at the expense of human and ecological rights. The time for tweaking has long since passed. We need honest solutions.
The backlash is everywhere — Brexit, Yellow Vests, mass migrations, trade wars, right-wing authoritarian governments, threats of wars, climate chaos. Policymakers must acknowledge that free trade agreements like Trump’s NAFTA, TPP and TTIP are neither prescriptions for healing humanity nor the solution for a swiftly warming and polluted planet. After all, trade agreements nowadays are actually just legal rules for deregulation — a means to tear down countries’ laws in order to benefit the investor class.
Once the domain of determining tariffs and subsidies, trade agreements today are increasingly used to deregulate laws that exist to protect our health, our access to affordable medicines, our food and water, and the environment.
Shockingly, Trump’s NAFTA contains enforceable requirements that give industry insiders authority to comb through all our regulatory laws in order to whittle them down to the most corporate-friendly version, whether they relate to cross-border trade or not. Congress is off the hook when it comes to the hard work of selling these de-regulations to constituents, and we are at the mercy of industry insiders for our health and environmental protections. If passed, Trump’s NAFTA will make his de-regulatory agenda permanent, because once a trade agreement is fast-tracked by Congress, it cannot be changed by Congress.
Under this model, our most important visions for the future would be vulnerable--the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, GMO labeling, workplace safety, digital rights. Unfortunately, these programs would all be scrutinized by monopoly insiders and many challenged as barriers to trade.
NAFTA 2.0 does include a few cosmetic changes to the original NAFTA — the weakening of Investor rights between the U.S. and Canada, a deal for autoworker pay, and lofty, yet unenforceable aspirations on labor rights. Trump’s NAFTA does nothing stop outsourcing, it further strengthens monopoly control over struggling farmers, increases medicine costs, green-lights pollution-intense industry and dumping toxics in Mexico, and continues the investor-state protections for oil and gas investors in Mexico — In line with Trump’s domestic agenda — all this while not mentioning climate change even once.
NAFTA 2.0, like all trade deals is solely designed for the advantage of transnational corporate interests. The people, and planet are, at best, afterthoughts in a game where the goal is monopoly protection over needs of small business and public interest.
It’s time we ask ourselves, “Just how far down the neoliberal rabbit-hole does Congress want to take us?
What is crucial for us to do now is to separate fact from fiction and campaign rhetoric (tariffs vs immigration) from actual policies that must not be included in any trade deal. Congress must not fast-track this dangerous trade agreement. Don’t allow them to trade away our democracy for Trump’s dirty agenda.
Harriet Heywood is an organizer with the issues-based nonprofit, People Demanding Action and she is a co-founder of the Trade Justice Alliance Working Group that works with both grass roots and grass tops to educate and activate the public for trade that respects people and planet. She lives in Homosassa.