By Gillian Locascio, Washington Fair Trade Coalition, originally printed in ILWU Local 23 monthly newspaper “Passing the Torch” in August 2017


NAFTA renegotiations are barreling ahead at full speed.

In mid-July, the Trump administration released the much-awaited negotiating objectives for re-making NAFTA. Already, negotiating rounds are scheduled for August and September.

Leadership in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico have all expressed hopes that the “expedited” renegotiation can be wrapped by January, before the Mexican election season begins.

Is five months of negotiations enough time to replace NAFTA with a trade deal that works for working people? Or will NAFTA “modernization” just incorporate some of the worst parts of TPP, making it even worse?

That may depend on us.

The negotiating objectives released by the Trump administration don’t give us a very clear sense of their goals, instead parroting the same vague objectives used for trade policies over the last few decades. Those trade policies have devastated working families in the U.S. and abroad, privileging corporate interests ahead of all others.

For example, the administration laid out no requirements for the strong and enforceable labor and environmental labor standards needed to protect jobs at home and human rights abroad. There is no call to eliminate NAFTA’s special investor protections for corporations (like the ability to sue governments directly in special corporate-friendly panels), which make it easier to offshore jobs and attack our jobs. It does not even call for an end to NAFTA’s ban on “Buy America” government purchasing preferences.

The administration that called NAFTA a disaster for working families is really only specific on one major NAFTA change – eliminating NAFTA’s Chapter 19 anti-dumping case review panels. This makes the vague or down-right concerning language on other issues especially troubling.

Labor unions, environmental groups, public health advocates, small-scale farmers and ranchers, and groups fighting corporate power all agreed – the negotiating objectives completely fail to take the bold steps needed to replace NAFTA with a deal that works for working families, here in the U.S. and abroad.

It will be up to us to slow down the process, demanding open and inclusive negotiations and putting out our vision of what a fair trade policy would be.

Already, we have submitted tens of thousands of comments to the US Trade Representative outlining key changes to NAFTA and new ideas for a trade deal that works – none of which were reflected in their negotiating objectives.

What if workers were allowed to collectively bargain contracts cross-border, since companies are operating across borders? What if goods made with forced or child labor were not allowed to be traded, in the same way that products from endangered animals are not allowed to be traded? What if goods made with poor labor or environmental conditions faced higher tariffs, so those playing by the rules aren’t competing with unfairly cheap prices? What if we created an international arbitration body where unions could bring complaints directly against companies that are breaking trade rules?

The ideas, and the willpower to create something new, are there. Let’s slow down NAFTA renegotiations and get this right!