Protesting a bad sequel to NAFTA

October 16, 2017

Richard Capron reports from Virginia on a protest against a renegotiated NAFTA.

ON OCTOBER 11, while many people were mesmerized by the ongoing circus at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, across the Potomac River at the Sheraton Pentagon City in Alexandria, Virginia, several hundred officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico were meeting to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Outside, a small number of protesters gathered to challenge the secretive deal being forged behind closed doors. In much the same way that trade negotiators forged the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with no public scrutiny of the details, this has all the hallmarks of a strategic rerun that will only benefit business.

The new NAFTA is already in the fourth round of negotiations, with hopes that the outcome will be approved by the end of 2017. But this new iteration of "free trade" would further erode the rights and welfare of workers by expanding the worst aspects of the original agreement advanced under the Clinton administration. That deal generated a windfall in corporate profits, while depressing wages and creating massive unemployment, especially in Mexico

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (Lance Cheung | flickr)

It is reasonable to assume that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, a Donald Trump appointee, doesn't have the interests of the working class in the U.S., Canada or Mexico at heart.

One protester, George, described how NAFTA directly caused the collapse of corn agriculture in southern Mexico. With the market flooded by highly subsidized corn from the U.S., Mexican farmers were driven out of business.

The farmers were forced to leave their fields and head north in hope of finding low-wage work in the auto factories and other industrial workplaces along the border. Finding limited opportunities, many adapted by traveling further north across the border--or turning to illegal activities. This is but one illustration of the devastating effects of NAFTA.

BUT WAIT--wasn't it candidate Donald Trump who referred to NAFTA and the TPP as "disasters"?

Yes, but not out of concern for the damage that neoliberal policy has done to the working class and local communities. In Trump's "America (United States of America, that is) First" way of thinking, NAFTA had not generated enough profits for domestic corporations.

Trump's archaic "trickle-down" economics postulates that by generating greater profits for U.S.-based corporations, more jobs will be created for citizens of the U.S.

Part of his strategy is to build a border wall and dramatically restrict immigration from economically ravaged Mexico and Latin America. Then, workers north of the border will be the "beneficiaries" of low-wage, non-union jobs, providing incentives to corporations not to seek cheap labor in other markets.

Can anyone seriously imagine that Trump would champion high-paying union jobs for the working class? One only need to look at his own record in hiring at his hotels and resorts.

Another concern over the impending NAFTA agreement is the likely provision for Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS). Under this feature, corporations can sue municipalities and states for "infringement" of profit-making opportunities.

As protest organizer Margaret Flowers observed, taxpayers would be liable to be sued by powerful corporate entities over initiatives designed to create local employment with just treatment of workers and environmentally sound practices.

The left should step aside from the distractions of IQ contests, Melania Trump's footwear and other such silliness--and take up the serious work of exposing what is happening behind closed doors.

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