Originally published in The Washington Times

By Seth McLaughlin


Liberal lawmakers on Thursday said there is a prime opportunity to put Americans workers first in new NAFTA trade deal that the Trump White House is hashing out with Canada and Mexico.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus was part of a broad coalition of groups that helped sink the Trans Pacific Partnership deal and is intent on putting its imprint on President Trump’s push to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“It is time for President Trump to live up to his rhetoric and actually deliver for working-class families,” said Rep. Marc Pocan, co-chairman of the CPC. “President Trump owes it to working-class families across the country to get a good deal on NAFTA and end the outsourcing of jobs.”

NAFTA talks are underway in Washington, and Mr. Trump has signaled an interest in getting a deal in principle as soon as next week, which could potentially pave the way for the current Congress to vote on a deal before the end of the year.

In a conference call on Thursday, Mr. Pocan, Wisconsin Democrat, as well as Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Ro Khanna of California applauded Mr. Trump for revisiting the deal, but said it is unclear whether the changes the White House is pursuing will dovetail with their core demands.

The group called for stronger labor and environmental requirements, establishing safeguards so workers are not exploited inside and outside the United States, and for a bolstering of human rights.

They claimed 1 million jobs have been lost since NAFTA went into effect in 1994 and that communities of color have been among the hardest hit communities.

They said a new deal must eliminate “special corporate privileges” — specifically the Investor State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, clause that allows foreign companies to sue governments over laws or rules that hurt their investments.

“Any renegotiation of NAFTA must eliminate the incentives for outsourcing jobs, raise wages and level the playing field for American workers,” Mrs. DeLauro said. “The biggest economic challenge of our time … is that too many people are in jobs that do not pay them enough to live on. Bad trade exasperate that issue.”

They vowed to work with Mr. Trump, but expressed skepticism over his goals, saying his $1.3 trillion tax cut was a giveaway to corporations. And they lamented a lack of transparency in the ongoing NAFTA negotiations.

“We want to see trade policies that protect American jobs. That is what the president says at the surface and that is where the details end,” Mr. Pocan said. “I personally can’t say I have an especially good indication of where the president wants to go. I have not seen it laid out or articulated”

Mr. Trump has thrust issues of trade the front of the national discussion since taking office and vowing to deliver on his campaign pledge to rework NAFTA, which he has describes as “disaster” and a “cash cow” for the nation’s trading partners.

Mr. Trump has withdrawn from the Trans Pacific Partnership, initiated a review of the 2012 U.S.-Korea trade deal and slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, leading to retaliatory tariffs from China on pork, fruit and other products shipped out of the U.S.

NAFTA talks continued this week as Mexican officials — including Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo — traveled to Washington to meet with Robert Lighthizer, the United States trade representative.

Progressives have long opposed the NAFTA agreement that former President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1993.

Railing against deal was a hallmark of Sen. Bernard Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016 and of the Vermont independent’s long political career on Capitol Hill, where he voted against the trade deal, describing it as a “lose-lose agreement” and a giveaway to corporations that led to the shipping of good-paying jobs overseas.