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New NAFTA a chance to shift free-trade model

The Latino Economy

Last week, the Trump administration submitted formal notice that they intend to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. I stood with House Democrats to demand a transparent process that puts hard-working, middle-class Americans before big, multinational corporations.

We called for the inclusion of civil society, labor and members of Congress in negotiations, and an end to the sublimation of our international laws by tribunals of corporate lawyers. We cannot move forward without these critical elements.

{mosads}We have long been opposed to NAFTA’s damaging impact on American jobs with fair wages. In 1993, I opposed NAFTA when it came to the floor for a vote. We were under intense pressure from President Bill Clinton, who called Democrats who opposed NAFTA “thugs.” But we would not let anyone intimidate us into abandoning our commitment to working Americans.

NAFTA accelerated the race to the bottom — and as a result, labor on both sides of the Mexican-American border lost, while corporations reaped the benefits. In the United States, NAFTA displaced 850,000 American manufacturing jobs according to the Economic Policy Institute — and it has suppressed wages by throwing U.S. workers into unmitigated wage competition with low-income Mexican laborers.

Fair trade drove the agenda during the 2016 election in both parties. On the campaign trail, President Trump called NAFTA the worst deal “in the history of the world.” This administration has signaled their willingness to rewrite the agreement — but they must do so in a way that puts American workers first.

Bold, progressive NAFTA renegotiation could provide the opportunity to create a new trade model that delivers benefits to more Americans. NAFTA’s ongoing damage to good paying American jobs must end. A rewritten NAFTA must include strong, fully enforceable labor standards to decrease incentives to offshore American jobs. In part, that means raising Mexican wages over the meager average of $2.50 per hour — a rate that U.S. job creators cannot compete with.

If the administration is serious about rewriting NAFTA so that it works for middle-class Americans, they should end the special investor rules that make it easier to offshore good paying American jobs.

These same rules in NAFTA subject our domestic laws to tribunals of three corporate lawyers who can demand unlimited sums of taxpayer money, including for the loss of expected future profits. This is undemocratic and has dangerous repercussions. For example, last year, TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, brought a suit under NAFTA for $15 billion in damages after the Obama administration rejected the pipeline.

President Trump cannot rely on wealthy corporate advisers to set the terms of this agreement.

Yet when it comes to including the voices of working people in the negotiation process, we have already seen the same mistakes from this administration that we have seen from past administrations.

Nearly the same corporate trade advisors that crafted the misguided Trans-Pacific Partnership have been consulted on NAFTA renegotiations — and they are using their position to write rules that shield pharmaceutical monopolies — making life-saving medications unaffordable.

Meanwhile, civil society, labor, environmental groups and most members of Congress have been left in the dark about the specific goals of a new NAFTA. This process requires a diversity of voices. And negotiations should be carried out in the light of day — with hearings, texts made after each negotiating round, and public comment periods. The American people deserve transparency in this process.

We must shift the paradigm of fair trade in this country. We must pursue fair trade that puts working Americans first and fosters inclusive growth through a transparent and inclusive process. Implementing a new model will not be easy — but with so much on the line, it is our obligation to put the American people first.

DeLauro represents Connecticut’s 3rd District and is ranking member of the Labor, Health, Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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