Public Citizen Analysis: How the New NAFTA Text Measures Against Key Changes We Have Demanded to Stop NAFTA’s Ongoing Damage

Lori Wallach

Lori Wallach Director, Public Citizen's Trade Watch

Here is our initial 14-page analysis of the NAFTA 2.0 text, following up on the statement from Sunday night. We have reviewed how the text measures up to the changes to NAFTA that Public Citizen and many other progressive organizations have long demanded. After some digging, which has been exhausting giving the 900 pages of text and annexes, we have boiled down whole chapters into bulleted highlights and lowlights and assessed whether demands are met or there are mixed outcomes or it’s too soon to know or there’s been a fail. 

Overall, the NAFTA 2.0 text reveals a work in progress with some improvements for which we have long advocated, some new terms that we oppose and more work required to stop NAFTA’s ongoing job outsourcing, downward pressure on wages and environmental damage.

The new text isn’t a transformational replacement of the entire corporate-rigged U.S. trade agreement model that NAFTA launched in the 1990s. But at the same time, in key respects, this deal is quite different from all past U.S. free trade agreements. The revised deal could reduce NAFTA’s ongoing job outsourcing, downward pressure on our wages and environmental damage if more is done to ensure the new labor standards are subject to swift and certain enforcement, and some other key improvements are made. There’s a ways to go between this text and congressional consideration of a final NAFTA renegotiation package in 2019.

Important progress has been made with the removal of corporate investor protections that make it cheaper and less risky to outsource jobs and a major reining-in of NAFTA’s outrageous Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunals under which corporations have grabbed hundreds of millions from taxpayers after attacks on environmental and health policies.

Termination of ISDS between the U.S. and Canada would eliminate 92 percent of U.S. ISDS liability under NAFTA and the lion’s share of total U.S. ISDS exposure overall. This, combined with the major roll back of corporate rights and ISDS coverage between the U.S. and Mexico would prevent many new ISDS attacks on domestic environmental and health policies after more than $390 million has been paid to corporation by taxpayers to date. That even this corporate-compliant administration whacked ISDS means future presidents cannot backslide and also sends a powerful signal to the many nations worldwide also seeking to escape the ISDS regime. 

A lot more work remains to be done: Unless strong labor standards and environmental standards are made subject to swift and certain enforcement, U.S. firms will continue to outsource jobs to pay Mexican workers poverty wages, dump toxins and bring their products back here for sale.

Despite Donald Trump’s “Buy American/Hire American” rhetoric, the new deal maintains NAFTA’s waiver of Buy American rules that require the U.S. government to procure U.S.-made goods, so unless that gets fixed more U.S. tax dollars and more U.S. jobs will be outsourced.

The new deal grants pharmaceutical corporations new monopoly rights so they can keep medicine prices high by avoiding generic competition. This could undermine the changes we need to make medicine more affordable here and increase prices in Mexico and Canada, limiting access to lifesaving medicines.

Areas of progress include a first-time-ever innovation of conditioning trade benefits for a percentage of autos and auto parts on the workers producing them being paid $16 per hour or more. Terms that forced countries to continue to export natural resources that they seek to conserve are eliminated. Longstanding safety and environmental problems relating to Mexican-domiciled trucks’ access to U.S. roads are addressed. Rules of origin that allowed goods with significant Chinese and others non-North American value were tightened.   

Americans have suffered under NAFTA’s corporate-rigged rules for decades. Nearly one million U.S. jobs have been government-certified as lost to NAFTA, with NAFTA helping corporations outsource more jobs to Mexico every week. The downward pressure on U.S. workers’ wages caused by NAFTA outsourcing has only intensified as Mexican wages declined in real terms since NAFTA, with Mexican manufacturing wages now 40 percent below those in coastal China.

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Reposted from Eyes on Trade

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Public Citizen

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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