NAFTA 2.0 better, but still bad
Letter to the Editor by Ken Bonetti
Published in Boulder Weekly 1/16/2020
Congress recently passed the U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement (aka NAFTA 2.0). Thanks to efforts by local, state and national labor unions, environmental organizations and consumer protection groups, including our own Colorado Coalition for Fair Trade, the outcome is better than both the original and the 2018 revision signed by Trump. While NAFTA 2.0 does reflect a marginal improvement, it is still far from a good trade agreement.
Perhaps the most important improvement is elimination of corporations’ ability to sue nations in private international tribunals in order to negate domestic laws protecting the public, workers and the environment from corporate neglect and abuse.
However, there is one huge exception. Several big U.S. oil corporations were exempted, so they can still sue Mexico for passing laws protecting Mexican citizens and their local environment from predation by fossil fuel giants. This exemption plus the agreement’s failure to mention, much less address, climate change, its failure to significantly improve inadequate environmental protections and a notable failure to eliminate provisions that enable corporate challenges to local environmental regulations led most environmental organizations to oppose the agreement.
Another important change was the insertion of language strengthening labor protections and enforcement in Mexico. The country is notorious for corrupt company unions and violence against independent labor unionists. Other provisions increasing Mexican wages to $16 per hour for 40-45% of workers producing motor vehicles exported to the U.S. and Canada, and upping North American-produced content of the same to 75% will slightly narrow the wage gap between U.S. and Mexican workers. These improvements led the AFL-CIO, though not all its member unions, to accept the agreement.
Elimination of draconian Big Pharma monopoly patent protections on many life-saving drugs was a key improvement, without which many in Congress would have voted no.
NAFTA 2.0 is far from ideal. Many troubling provisions remain that harm small farmers, weaken internet privacy protections, retain buy-American waivers that harm local businesses and job creation on federal government projects, weaken food safety protections and maintain incentives to export environmental pollution to Mexico where regulations are lax.
New labor and environmental provisions may improve conditions for Mexican workers, but will not bring back jobs to the U.S. as Trump likes to claim. Much more work is needed to infuse a fair-trade philosophy into this and many other trade agreements that favor corporate profits and rich investors over workers, public health and the environment.