U.S. negotiators following TPP script in NAFTA 2.0 talks, observers warn

Two months into NAFTA renegotiation talks, the process is looking awfully familiar to labor and fair-trade observers – and not in a good way.

When his trade representatives opened talks with Canada and Mexico in August, President Trump pledged to deliver “a better deal for our workers.” But so far, Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition Director Kaela Berg said, Trump’s team seems intent on pushing a better deal for corporations that want to offshore jobs and decrease wages.

“The question remains as to whether we can expect a new era of international trade, or more of the same neoliberal policies that have brought American manufacturing to the brink of extinction, increased forced migration and decimated portions of the global economy,” Berg said.

Of particular concern to Berg and other fair-trade advocates is the administration’s push to preserve – and potentially expand – so-called Investor State Dispute Settlement systems, pioneered by the original agreement 23 years ago.

Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District joined a rally sponsored by the Communications Workers of America calling on Trump to remove ISDS’s from NAFTA. CWA argues they amount to a “private justice system for multinational corporations” and allow them to “challenge local, state and federal laws before a private panel of corporate lawyers, instead of in a country’s court system.”

“If the renegotiated NAFTA contains even stronger ISDS language, the scales will be forever tipped in favor of giant corporations and working families, family farmers, and small businesses will be unable to compete in a global marketplace,” Berg added.

Public outrage over ISDS systems was part of the reason the U.S. backed out of another NAFTA-style trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, last year.

But ISDS’s aren’t the only holdover from TPP talks, activists warned. Like TPP talks, NAFTA negotiations are taking place behind tightly locked doors, with no public access to negotiating texts.

“We must demand the sort of transparency in these negotiations that we fought so hard for during the TPP negotiations,” Berg said. “The same players, secret processes and dirty tricks are at play.”

One bright spot to emerge from the early renegotiation talks was Canada’s attempt to level the playing field for its workers by raising labor standards in Mexico and the U.S.

Canada negotiators pushed the U.S. to eliminate anti-union Right to Work laws and Mexico to target its corporate-sanctioned unions, notorious for negotiating raw deals for working people. Canada also wants Mexico and the U.S. to offer workers one year of paid family leave, as Canada does.

“If it isn’t fair for all of us, it won’t be fair for any of us,” said Celeste Drake, the AFL-CIO’s trade specialist. “After all, we don’t live or work in an isolated economy. We must bring up standards for working people in all three NAFTA countries.”

To join labor’s fight for a fair NAFTA, text TRADE to 235246.

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