Replace NAFTA, don’t make it worse

By Bob Tackett

Whether President Donald Trump can deliver on his pledge to stop outsourcing and make trade agreements “much better for American workers” is now being tested as the administration works to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

President Trump must secure a new deal that eliminates NAFTA’s incentives to outsource American jobs and levels the playing field by adding strong labor and environmental provisions with swift and certain enforcement to raise wages for all workers. Otherwise, companies will continue to move U.S. jobs to Mexico, pay workers poverty wages and dump toxins, then import the products back here to sell.

The stakes are high for working families in Oregon.

Oregon has lost 12,000 of its manufacturing jobs since NAFTA and other similar trade deals went into effect.

More than 68,000 specific Oregon jobs have been certified under just one narrow government program as lost to outsourcing or imports under NAFTA. These numbers represent a significant undercount of the actual jobs lost, given the program only covers certain types of jobs.

Overall, more than 930,000 American jobs already have been certified by the U.S. government as lost due to NAFTA. Every week NAFTA helps corporations outsource more middle class jobs to Canada and Mexico, including recently at GE, Carrier, and Nabisco.

According to the Department of Labor, manufacturing workers who lose jobs to trade and find reemployment are typically forced to take pay cuts. Two of every five rehired in 2016 were paid less in their new jobs. One in four lost greater than 20 percent of their income. That means a $7,700 pay cut for the median wage manufacturing worker earning $38,000.

This is the opposite of what NAFTA boosters promised 23 years ago when the deal was debated by Congress. They promised that NAFTA would improve the U.S. trade balance with Mexico and Canada, and create 200,000 new jobs in each of NAFTA’s first five years. Instead we’ve lost almost one million jobs as a small surplus with Mexico and small deficit with Canada became a massive $176 billion NAFTA goods trade deficit in 2016. The rate of our service sector exports even slowed.

Meanwhile, corporations have collected more than $392 million in taxpayer money using NAFTA’s “investor-state” tribunals, where corporations can sue governments before panels of three private lawyers to demand unlimited sums of taxpayer funds over our environmental and health laws that they claim violate the corporations’ NAFTA rights.

A good NAFTA replacement must ensure imported food, goods and services meet U.S. consumer and environmental standards and eliminate NAFTA’s existing terms that drive up the price of lifesaving medicines by giving pharmaceutical companies extended monopolies to avoid generic competition.

Oregon can clearly benefit from trade with NAFTA countries. But a tweak to NAFTA won’t cut it. We want a NAFTA replacement we can support, meaning one that raises wages and creates good jobs for people in Oregon and across the nation.

Bob Tackett is the executive secretary treasurer of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council and a 43-year member of United Steelworkers Local 330.

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