NAFTA2 – Pluses & Minuses

NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) has made life tougher for workers for 25 years. The treaty ended tariffs on a wide range of goods from Mexico at a time when wages there were about one-tenth of those in the U.S.

A million jobs left the U.S. .

And the fear of more outsourcing forced U.S. workers to accept lower wages.

Mexican workers also suffered a double whammy–corporate-friendly unions agreed to starvation wages while tariff-free U.S. corn exports left farmers destitute.

U.S. wages have stagnated for decades–and workers in Mexico make substantially less than those in China.

As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to rewrite NAFTA or exit it.

Last September, President Trump signed NAFTA 2.0–and pressure is on Congress to pass it when members return to D.C. next month.

Is 2.0 an improvement?

Yes. A recent analysis by Public Citizen found 11 areas of improvement.

Will it end the damage the original NAFTA has done to workers and the environment?

No. The same Public Citizen analysis rated 11 items unacceptable and seven others as improved but still not good.

So the fight for public opinion is on. Republicans can say that Democrats are voting against a treaty that promises fewer corporate damage suits against taxpayers, an end to the fake unions in Mexico, and protection from Canadian and Mexican tariffs on U.S. meat, poultry and dairy.

And Democrats will say that isn’t enough.

Three provisions in NAFTA 2.0 are rigged in favor of pharmaceutical companies. The patent period for “biologics” would increase from seven years to 10. More drugs would qualify as biologics and even minor changes could extend a company’s monopoly for an additional 10 years.  (Biologics such as insulin can cost a person $100,000 a year or more.)

Although most companies will lose the power to force changes in our country’s laws designed to protect labor and the environment, that change won’t take effect for three years–and 13 oil and gas companies with contracts from the Mexican government will be exempt. That is, if Mexico should try to cut the use of fossil fuels, these oil companies can sue for lost income.

And NAFTA 2.0 will not slow the outsourcing of U.S. jobs. Research scientist Ian Robinson states it bluntly, “It does not include clear labor standards or effective workers’ rights monitoring or enforcement provisions. It also lacks strong environmental standards to prevent firms from outsourcing to Mexico simply to avoid more stringent Canadian or U.S. requirements.”

In other words, the treaty has some good language about labor and environmental standards, but they are suggestions–and unenforceable.

  Moreover, foods–and labelling–that satisfies rules of their country of origin, must be accepted into every country. The U.S. will not be allowed to pass rules on GMO labelling or pesticide content or even expiration dates.

Big Pharma has been spending millions lobbying for a no-amendments, up-and-down vote. They figured they could push it through because Democratic freshmen from districts where Trump support was strong would fear losing re-election in 2020.

But several have signed a letter stating the changes needed before they can support the treaty.

Can Congress amend a treaty already signed by the President?

Yes. Congress succeeded in negotiating major changes to three trade treaties signed by President George W. Bush.

In the push for NAFTA 2.0 next month, many Republicans will claim to be fighting for the meat, poultry and dairy industries. In truth, they will be sacrificing those industries in a fight to keep wages down and spread Big Pharma monopolies into Canada and Mexico.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019
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