Why isn't Trump serious about fixing NAFTA?
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Fixing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is one of few goals Donald Trump shares with congressional Democrats. But Trump’s if-you-investigate-I-won’t-legislate tantrum threatens enactment of a revised NAFTA.

The two of us, a Catholic Sister and a consumer advocate both committed to social justice, have long advocated for NAFTA’s replacement given the pact’s ongoing damage throughout North America.

But the NAFTA 2.0 deal President TrumpDonald John TrumpMichael Flynn transcripts reveal plenty except crime or collusion 50 people arrested in Minneapolis as hundreds more National Guard troops deployed Missouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' MORE signed last year wouldn’t raise wages in Mexico or stop race-to-the-bottom U.S. job outsourcing. And Trump added new monopoly rights for pharmaceutical corporations to NAFTA that would lock in high drug prices here and raise them in Mexico and Canada.


Immediately after a revised deal was announced, congressional Democrats began urging the administration to eliminate the Pharma giveaways and to strengthen the pact’s labor and environmental provisions and their enforcement. The latter is necessary for a new pact to counteract NAFTA’s outsourcing of jobs and pollution. They also called on Mexico to implement labor reforms so a new deal could actually deliver improvements for workers there and here.

But for nine months, the administration refused to change a single word of what Trump rebranded the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Now, even as administration officials have begun to work with congressional Democrats on necessary changes, Trump could sink the process.

The president alternatively threatens that he cannot work with Democrats if they investigate him and tries to blame Democrats for delays caused by the administration not making the changes needed to garner a congressional majority.

Eager to shift attention from Trump’s calls for foreign interference in our elections, GOP congressional leaders have joined in. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Overnight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) even claimed Democrats are too busy investigating Trump to pass USMCA. That’s rich coming from someone who has buried reams of legislation that the House passed this year.

Despite these histrionics, Democrats are continuing to work with the administration to fix NAFTA, which says a lot about their zeal to stop NAFTA’s considerable damage.


The U.S. Department of Labor has certified just under 1 million U.S. jobs as lost to NAFTA, with more jobs outsourced to Mexico weekly. Unless the NAFTA 2.0 labor and environmental standards and their enforcement are significantly strengthened, the race to the bottom will only continue.

Why? The absence of independent labor unions in Mexico means real wages there are now lower than before NAFTA. Mexican manufacturing wages are 40 percent lower than in China.

The workers in the Chevy Blazer plant that GM chose to locate in Mexico will earn less per day than their U.S. counterparts made per hour a decade ago and not enough to cover basic needs. That is not only deeply unfair to both U.S. and Mexican workers, it is immoral.

Meanwhile, the new pharma perks make NAFTA 2.0 worse than the original. The pact requires signatory countries to provide extended monopoly rights that block the generic competition needed to reduce drug prices. This includes extensions of drug patent monopolies beyond 20 years, guaranteed additional exclusive marketing rights for biologic drugs, and more.

If these terms become law, they would lock in the policies that make our medicines the most expensive in the world while exporting our bad policies to Mexico and Canada. And yes, this would undermine Trump’s own plan to import cheaper medicines from Canada.

It’s not surprising that Big Pharma is bankrolling the corporate campaign to pass USMCA as-is. But, a House Democratic majority that prioritizes lowering Americans’ prescription drug costs will not enact a trade deal that handcuffs them from accomplishing that mission.

Trump must decide if he will stick with Big Pharma and corporations that have outsourced hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs under NAFTA. That’s who supports USMCA.

Not a single union or consumer group does. But unlike past trade deals, neither the unions nor our groups have pushed to scrap the deal announced last year.

That is because in the original renegotiations, U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerGOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 Pelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House MORE made some important improvements, such as largely eliminating NAFTA’s Investor-State Dispute settlement system under which corporations have been paid almost $400 million after attacks on environmental and health laws. That made it worth fighting to get the rest of the deal right.

Now it’s on Trump to decide if he can work with Congress to get something done while he is being investigated and actually fix NAFTA.

Sister Simone Campbell is the Executive Director of NETWORK. Lori Wallach is the Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.