The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, December 14, 2018

'New NAFTA' gets measured, good reviews from labor reserved

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON (PAI)—The Trump administration’s “New NAFTA” contains many pro-worker improvements, but still has some remaining holes in worker protections, including the need to eliminate the last remaining vestige of the pro-corporate secret trade courts, Teamsters Legislative Director Mike Dolan says.

But at the same time, the pro-worker provisions are so many and varied that Dolan praised the renamed United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, or USMCA, as “a new paradigm” for future U.S. trade deals.

And it was good enough for workers that Dolan gave a proverbial chuckle at the Chamber of Commerce’s “frustration” over the new NAFTA’s pro-worker sections before asking: “Has the Chamber ever opposed a ‘free trade’ deal?” 

“Their concerns about the new NAFTA, and their opposition to aspects of the renegotiations the labor movement has historically called for, are auspicious from our perspective. The worm turns and a new model for future FTAs emerges,” Dolan said.

Dolan was one of two pro-worker witnesses to discuss the pact, which President Donald Trump reached with Canada and Mexico earlier this year. Dolan and AFL-CIO Trade Specialist Celeste Drake spoke during the U.S. International Trade Commission hearings on it on Nov. 15-16.

The Trade Commission heard Drake, Dolan and the other witnesses, all representing corporate interests – including the Chamber – in preparation for a report to Trump, and probably Congress, next year on the trade pact’s impact. Leaders of the three nations formally signed the new pact on Nov. 30 in Buenos Aires. Legislatures in all three nations still must ratify it.

Drake and the AFL-CIO were a little more cautious with praise for the new NAFTA, mainly because of the pact's unknown enforcement strength. And that could negate its better-than-the-old-NAFTA worker rights provisions, the AFL-CIO says. 

After all, “unenforced rules are not worth the paper they are written on,” the AFL-CIO formally told the federal government. For that reason and more, the AFL-CIO “is reserving judgement” on the pact right now, Drake told the U.S. International Trade Commission in November.

And unless the new NAFTA becomes stronger and pro-worker, she warned, the jobs drain the current NAFTA has caused over 25 years – a drain which the Economic Policy Institute now calculates at 851,700 factory jobs – will continue. 

Nancy Pelosi, who will likely be the Speaker of the House next year, called the deal a "work in progress, citing the lack of worker and environment protections.

President Donald Trump, who said on Dec. 1 he would cancel the old NAFTA next year, called the new trades agreement "the largest, most significant, modern and balanced trade agreement in history. All of our countries will benefit greatly. It is probably the largest trade deal ever made, also."

But Dolan called the new NAFTA “a historic rebalancing” of the benefits and costs of trade, not between the three countries, but for workers as opposed to bosses and investment elites. However, the new NAFTA doesn’t quite go all the way to get the union’s wholehearted endorsement, which would be its first ever of a “free trade” pact, Dolan said.

“We have described to the administration” in prior hearings and sessions on the new NAFTA and trade in general “our bottom-line interest in eliminating the incentives for outsourcing by big corporations, which we repeat,” he noted.