Many Americans have not seen a pay increase in years, cannot find better-paying jobs, and have seen good jobs outsourced due in part to unfair trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Unfortunately, American trade policy currently rewards corporations that offshore jobs, drive down wages, and increase unemployment and underemployment. These wide-ranging trade agreements, including NAFTA, were negotiated in secret with hundreds of corporate advisors on the inside, while the public and Congress were shut out.
At the heart of NAFTA are special protections for corporations that make it easier for them to outsource jobs and empower them to attack our laws before panels of corporate lawyers that can order unlimited payments of our tax dollars to multinational corporations. Instead of leveling the playing field, NAFTA has made it easy for companies to continue outsourcing jobs to Mexico so they can spend less on workers and pollute more. Using just one narrow classification, almost one million American jobs already have been certified by the U.S. government as lost due to NAFTA.
Since NAFTA was implemented, U.S. wages have remained flat and Mexico’s already-low wages are down 9 percent. We must replace NAFTA with a deal that raises wages and eliminates NAFTA’s incentives to outsource American jobs. Essential to preventing outsourcing is the addition of strong, binding labor and environmental provisions that meet fundamental international standards and that have swift and certain enforcement, as well as the elimination of NAFTA’s investor protections that make it less risky and cheaper to outsource jobs. If NAFTA renegotiations lack enforceable labor and environmental standards, corporations will continue to outsource U.S. jobs in order to pay foreign workers poverty wages and dump toxins, only to then import products back into the U.S. – damaging the health and economic wellbeing of communities here and abroad.
The Trump Administration has stated that the goal of renegotiating NAFTA is to get a much better deal for American workers. Yet, given that the Trump Administration has implemented so many policies that blatantly attack workers by undermining their wages, benefits, health and safety, many Americans are skeptical that helping workers is the real goal of President Trump’s NAFTA renegotiations. Moreover, President Trump’s view of NAFTA is that somehow Mexican workers have benefitted at the expense of U.S. workers. In reality, the main beneficiaries have been the large corporations that shaped NAFTA’s terms, not Mexican workers. Since NAFTA was implemented, real wages in Mexico are down 9 percent and 1.9 million Mexicans engaged in farming and related work have lost their livelihoods. Mexico’s poverty rate two decades into NAFTA – 55.1 percent in 2014 – was higher than the 52.4 percent when NAFTA began in 1994, meaning 20.5 million more Mexicans now live in poverty.
The process by which the Trump Administration is renegotiating NAFTA does little to instill confidence that a new deal will stop putting corporations before people. Hundreds of trade advisors representing corporate interests continue to have special access to U.S. proposals and draft negotiating agreement texts, while these documents are kept secret from the public and are largely inaccessible to most Members of Congress. Without input from the American people and their elected representatives, the Trump Administration could make NAFTA even worse for workers.
Making NAFTA better for workers will require a wholesale transformation of the agreement. The corporate protectionism that is now at the pact’s core must be removed, and new, binding terms that that prioritize working families must be its new pillar. President Trump promised to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and raise American workers’ wages. If he fails to get a deal to replace NAFTA that levels the playing field by securing binding labor and environmental protections, more Americans will be forced into part-time and other low-paying jobs that do not support families, leading to continued wage stagnation across the continent.
This is why the Congressional Progressive Caucus, representing over 75 members in the U.S. House of Representatives, is proud to present its proposals in "A Fair Trade Agenda: Renegotiating NAFTA for Working Families."
Among the Caucus's policy demands are robust and binding labor and environmental standards across all partner countries to end outsourcing; an open and democratic process for renegotiating; an end to the secretive, investor-friendly tribunal system that gives big corporations special rights; an expansion of Buy American procurement provisions; support for communities of color disproportionately harmed by NAFTA; and an end to corporate handouts that promote monopoly power.