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The Ultimate Hypocrisy? Trump Plan to Renegotiate NAFTA Resembles TPP Deal He Withdrew From

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The Trump administration has released their plans for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. Observers say they are surprisingly similar to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump withdrew from in one of his first acts as president. As the White House kicks off its “Made in America”-themed week, labor leaders say the new NAFTA plan worsens protections for workers and would be “the ultimate in hypocrisy.” “There’s enough vagueness in the descriptions that it’s unclear … if we are going to reduce the offshoring of U.S. jobs, the pressure downward on wages in all the countries,” says Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach. She also notes that “[Trump] has refused to divest his business interests. He’s refused to disclose what his full investments are in Mexico and Canada.”

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StoryApr 13, 2018As Trump Reconsiders TPP Stance, Fair Trade Advocates Say Real Fight Is over NAFTA Renegotiation
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today with Monday’s highly anticipated release of the Trump administration’s goals for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. The 17-page document outlines Trump’s plans to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico and eliminate a controversial dispute settlement mechanism. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said, quote, “Too many Americans have been hurt by closed factories, exported jobs, and broken political promises.” And he vowed to negotiate a, quote, “fair deal.”

Trade analysts say the plan is vague and sounds a lot like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country trade deal that included Canada and Mexico. On the campaign trail, Trump called the TPP, quote, “a continuing rape of our country.” He then withdrew the U.S. from the deal in one of his first acts as president. Meanwhile, labor leaders criticized the new NAFTA plan, saying it worsens protections for workers. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, quote, “Small changes around the edges—or the insertion of disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership provisions—are not acceptable and would be the ultimate in hypocrisy.”

AMY GOODMAN: The release of the NAFTA renegotiation plan comes as the White House kicks off its “Made in America”-themed week. Speaking Monday, Trump lashed out against trade deals he said have hurt U.S. companies.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to make a pledge to each and every one of you: No longer are we going to allow other countries to break the rules, steal our jobs and drain our wealth. And it has been drained. It has been drained.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump campaigned on the promise of either leaving NAFTA or renegotiating the agreement. In April, he said the U.S. will remain and seek to renegotiate using fast-track authority, which mandated Monday’s release of detailed objectives 30 days prior to the beginning of formal talks. Trump will now have sweeping authority to independently broker an agreement before submitting it to Congress for a vote.

For more, we’re joined by Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and author of The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority.

Lori, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, tell us what is in these plans that were released yesterday by the Trump administration and why labor leaders are so skeptical of what the Trump administration has proposed.

LORI WALLACH: Well, the document that came out yesterday certainly doesn’t describe the revolutionary transformation of the NAFTA into something that’s “much better” for working Americans, which is what President Trump promised as a candidate. On the other hand, the document is fairly vague. And I think there are a couple of different reasons for that being the case. But it remains really unclear from this document if, on the one hand, some real improvements might be in the offing in—relative to the current agreement, or, looking at this document—you can go either way—a lot of what was in the Trans-Pacific Partnership is going to get added on to the existing NAFTA, the bad stuff is not going to get cut, and, as a result, the agreement is going to be worse for people and the planet in all three countries. And there’s enough vagueness in the descriptions that it’s unclear if the things that simply must be done—and there is a short list of them that must be done—if we are going to reduce the offshoring of U.S. jobs, the pressure downward on wages in all the countries. The language is so vague, it’s not clear they’re doing that. But on the other hand, the language is so vague, it’s unclear exactly what, say, the labor and environmental standards will be.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Lori, clearly, one of the goals would be to reduce the trade deficit between the U.S., especially, and Mexico, but also there’s all this stuff about currency manipulation. I don’t think anyone has ever accused Canada or Mexico of being involved in currency manipulation. Could you talk about those two aspects?

LORI WALLACH: Well, it is super-interesting, and it really is the first time that a U.S. trade agreement has listed as its objective bringing down the trade deficit. So, when President Trump was a candidate, he talked about making NAFTA “much better” for working Americans, and he described what that would mean as bringing down the trade deficit, which was $173 billion of goods trade deficit with Mexico and Canada last year. And he said he would make sure that more jobs are created by renegotiating. So, on the one hand, it’s pretty interesting, and it’s never been the case that an explicit goal of the negotiations is to try and get the trade more in balance. And that’s actually a good thing. The flipside of that is, it’s unclear whether the objectives will deliver on that. Now, the fact that that’s the goal—and the guy who’s the trade representative has actually been a guy who has consistently fought for U.S. companies and U.S. workers. He’s a fairly—he’s a guy who I’m hopeful about as USTR. That makes you wonder if the—what the vagueness is about. Are there still things they haven’t decided in the administration? Maybe he’s just being smart and avoiding picking a big fight on some of the issues that could make it better. Who knows?

But the currency stuff is interesting, because, actually, in fact, right after NAFTA went into effect, Mexico devalued its currency enormously—the “peso crisis”—and, actually, that wiped out all of the benefits of the tariff cuts. So the devaluation was bigger than the general—the average drop in tariffs the U.S. products had faced. So we basically eliminated any of the benefits with that. And I think part of the reason—and the trade representative said this—they’re going to do the currency language in this agreement is to set a model so that it’s a basic element of every U.S. agreement, which is not a bad thing.

The thing that is disappointing is that in order to bring down the trade deficits and to create more manufacturing jobs in the U.S., to counter the race to the bottom, there are a set of things you simply have to do. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican or from Mars. These are the only things that are going to change the numbers. And in that, getting rid of the incentives that exist in NAFTA, investor protections to offshore jobs, getting rid of the ban on “buy local” and Buy American, which offshores our tax dollars instead of reinvesting them to create jobs at home, putting in environmental, labor and wage standards that are strong and real, not the fluff from TPP, and enforcing them, so you actually have to meet the standards before you get the benefits of the agreement—those kinds of real changes, document yesterday is not clear about. I wouldn’t totally say that none of that’s going to happen. But also, it’s a little worrying that it’s not necessarily going to happen. And, in fact, is Buy American week, and the language on the Buy American procurement issues was particularly disappointing. It doesn’t get rid of NAFTA’s ban that’s in place now on Buy American and “buy local.” And that seems pretty hypocritical.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of Buy America week, during a press briefing Monday, a reporter asked Press Secretary Sean Spicer if “Made in America” week will apply to Trump brands manufactured internationally.

HUNTER WALKER: I’m wondering whether you can tell us if “Made in America” week will include the Trump Organization or Ivanka Trump brands committing to stop manufacturing wares abroad.

PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: Say that—I’m sorry. If the?

HUNTER WALKER: If this—as part of “Made in America” week, if the Trump Organization or Ivanka Trump’s brands will make any kind of commitment to stop manufacturing gifts, clothes and other wares abroad?

PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: Yeah, so, there’s a couple things that are interesting about that question. First, I think what’s really important is the president’s agenda—regulatory relief and tax relief—are focused on trying to make sure that all companies can hire here, can expand here, can manufacture here. That’s something that he wants for every company, and you’ve seen him talk about that extensively. With respect to, you know, his own companies, obviously it’s inappropriate to discuss how anything would affect their own companies. But I can tell you that in some cases, there are certain supply chains or scalability that may not be available in this country. I’m not going to comment on specific products, but I will tell you that the overall arching goal, of course, though, is to grow manufacturing, to grow investment here in the United States and to grow U.S. workers here. So, that remains the overall objective.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Sean Spicer. We couldn’t show you video, because, once again, for at least eight days now, the Trump administration has not allowed video to be shown of the press briefing at the White House. But that’s Sean Spicer responding to the question about whether “Made in America” should apply to Trump brands. Lori Wallach?

LORI WALLACH: Well, it raises—not just is that a very important question, but it raises a very important problem with these NAFTA renegotiations, which is the president has refused to divest his business interests. He’s refused to disclose what his full investments are in Mexico and Canada. So when these talks are ongoing—and they can start in 30 days—even though we don’t have the details of what’s going to be demanded, what the opening U.S. documents are, a lot of members of Congress have demanded the Trump administration simply do what the European Union does, which is, before it officially tables a document making demands of another country in a trade negotiation, they publish them publicly. So, with this investment in Mexico, investment in Canada, Ivanka’s making goods in Mexico—some of the Donald Trump clothing line was made in Mexico—the really direct conflict of interest, about in whose interest some of the negotiations will happen.

So, I respect and trust the guy who’s the United States trade representative, but he’s part of a big administration that includes those conflicts of interest with the Trump Organization, that includes the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who was the head of a company that has used the investor-state corporate tribunals, which this document does not make clear we’re getting rid of in these renegotiations. In fact, you know, oil and gas companies are the ones who are using this mechanism where multinational corporations are empowered to attack governments in front of tribunals of three trade attorneys, who can order us taxpayers to pay unlimited sums, including for the companies’ lost expected future profits, if the companies think that some domestic environmental, health, consumer law undermines their NAFTA privileges. And in NAFTA, this is not hypothetical. Like the reason why the environmental, labor, consumer groups say NAFTA needs a total redo, simply to stop the damage, is already $470 million has been paid out to multinational corporations in NAFTA investor-state attacks on mining rules, toxics bans, water and timber policies, so just to stop those corporate attacks, to stop the ongoing offshoring.

I mean, if you want to talk about the Trump trade hypocrisy, put your head around this one. Remember, everyone heard him say, “I’m going to make companies that offshore jobs suffer.” And he threatened Carrier: “Don’t you take those jobs out of Indiana and over to Mexico.” Well, Carrier is offshoring 1,200 to 2,000 jobs. So has anything happened to them? Oh, yes. Not a punishment, but 15 new lucrative government contracts since the Trump administration. So, there are, I would say, deep politics and conflicts in that administration on not just the Buy America week, but what happens with the NAFTA negotiations, that make the concerns about in whose interest, what’s actually going to be on the table, very real. And on that note, I would say, a lot of folks are going to see their members of Congress—


LORI WALLACH: —in August and should talk to them about making sure NAFTA is either replaced or we get out of it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lori, quickly, if you can, where do we go from here? Is there a time limit? There are reports the Republicans want to get a deal wrapped up by the beginning of next year?

LORI WALLACH: So, the goal is to try and finish negotiations at the end of the year. I don’t think that’s actually feasible. The way fast track works, they can start the talks as soon as August 16th. And that’s why I was saying, during August recess, when your members of Congress are home for five weeks, it’s totally worth, at a Labor Day picnic or parade, or if you happen to run into them at some event, to grab your members of Congress’ hand and say, “I’m really concerned about this NAFTA renegotiation. Can you stay on top of that? Will you promise me you’ll oppose any agreement, say, that still has investor-state dispute settlement in it?” If that’s in there, obviously it’s not a good trade agreement for people, it’s just a good trade agreement for corporations. So that process of when it gets decided and when it gets finished is going to depend on us. If we basically insist on holding accountable Trump to his promises to make it really better for people, not just corporations, it could stretch out.

AMY GOODMAN: Lori Wallach, we want to thank you for being with us, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, author of The Rise and Fall of Fast Track Trade Authority.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll go to Beirut, Lebanon, to look at a new Amnesty report. Is the U.S. coalition committing war crimes in Mosul, Iraq? Stay with us.

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