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Civil Society Priorities in the NAFTA Renegotiation

March 21, 2018

More Than 1,000 U.S. Civil Society Groups Demand an End to ISDS, the Addition of Strong Labor Standards & More in NAFTA Renegotiation

[March 21, 2018 | CTC]

Washington, D.C. — As U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testified on trade policy at a Ways & Means Committee hearing this morning, a cross-sector group of more than 1,000 labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, civil rights, faith, small business, public health and other civil society organizations sent a letter to Congress outlining their shared criteria for renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  Among other things, the letter demanded an end to Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and the addition of strong labor and environmental standards with swift and certain enforcement.

The organizations’ letter sets forth changes needed to stop NAFTA’s ongoing incentives to outsource American jobs and push down wages and environmental standards and to replace the 1994 pact with a deal that could deliver benefits to working people in North America. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact based on the existing NAFTA model, could not obtain majority support in Congress. The letter describes a new model for U.S. trade pacts that could obtain broader support.
Pointing the loss of more than 930,000 American jobs certified as lost to NAFTA and falling Mexican wages, the letter outlines what is needed to replace the pact — currently under renegotiation between the United States, Mexico and Canada — with a new agreement that addresses the huge disparity in labor rights, wages and environmental standards between the three countries for the benefit of working families, the environment and public health continent-wide.  NAFTA renegotiations between the United States, Mexico and Canada were initiated in August 2017 and were slated to be concluded in the coming weeks.
“The administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports are an important first step in protecting the basic industries essential to our national security, but what’s still missing in the debate over trade policy is the need to effectively address the ongoing labor abuses and sweatshop wages rampant among some of our key trading partners.  NAFTA’s renegotiation is an opportunity to finally get it right.  This is even more crucial in light of the direct incentives for outsourcing in the recently passed Republican tax cuts,” said Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers.  
“Our members have never liked NAFTA, and they know that every week that goes by, NAFTA continues to help corporations outsource more middle class jobs, while also putting health, environmental standards and highway safety at risk.  We need to hold this administration accountable to creating a new deal that puts people and the planet ahead of narrow corporate interests,” said James P. Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
“NAFTA has not worked for North American workers. Thousands of U.S. and Canadian manufacturing jobs have been shipped to Mexico since NAFTA was implemented over the objections of working people. And Mexican workers have not benefited either.  They are still subject to violations of their basic human rights to form real unions and still earn exceedingly low wages,” said Robert Martinez, Jr., International President of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.  “A new NAFTA must benefit workers in all three nations and include international labor standards based on ILO Conventions that are based on fundamental human rights. Trade policy must benefit everyone, not just a handful of multinationals who outsource our work anywhere in the world where workers can be exploited.”
“President Trump and the Republican Congress have not lived up to their promises to bring good jobs back to the United States. In fact, with the new tax law that provides incentives for corporations to send jobs overseas, they have done the opposite,” said Christopher Shelton, President of the Communications Workers of America.  “It’s time to get serious about fixing our broken trade system and bringing jobs home by committing to a total rewrite of NAFTA. The new agreement must put a priority on raising wages and standards for all jobs, including call center and information technology jobs, so that American workers can compete on a level playing field. And it must remove the corrupt ISDS system that provides special protections for multinational corporations while leaving working people with no way to fight back when these same companies destroy their communities.”
“While U.S. agricultural trade boasts an overall trade surplus, that agricultural trade surplus represents less than 5 percent of the overall U.S. trade deficit, representing lost jobs, lowered wages, and less economic activity in rural communities. We need a renegotiated NAFTA that creates a fair trade framework for the benefit of family farmers, their communities, and all of America,” said Roger Johnson, President of the National Farmers Union.
“If a NAFTA replacement is to achieve majority in support in Congress the investor-state dispute settlement regime that incentivizes American job offshoring and empowers foreign corporations to attack domestic laws must be eliminated. Of course the corporate lobby defends ISDS, among those who now say it must go are the Republican-majority National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, U.S. small business organizations, and hundreds of the nation’s leading legal and economics professors. Stark criticism of ISDS has come from voices as disparate as the staunchly conservative U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Reagan-era associate deputy attorney general Bruce Fein, the pro-free-trade libertarian Cato Institute think tank, progressive U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, unions and environmental groups,” said Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.  

In the letter, the 1,043 groups urged Congress to demand that the NAFTA renegotiation:

  • Stop outsourcing and raise wages by adding strong labor and environmental standards with swift and certain enforcement;
  • Eliminate NAFTA terms that promote the outsourcing of Americans’ jobs, including Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions;
  • Protect consumers and the environment and ensure a level playing field for U.S. businesses, farmers and workers by ending NAFTA rules that threaten food safety and food labeling;
  • Make medicine more affordable by eliminating NAFTA rules that increase costs;
  • Ensure a fair playing field for American job creation by adding strong, enforceable disciplines against currency manipulation;
  • Create American jobs and reinforce improved labor and environmental standards by strengthening “rules of origin” and stopping transshipment;
  • Protect health and the environment by requiring that all imported goods and all services and service providers meet U.S. standards and add a specific safeguard for domestic environmental, health, labor and other public interest policies;
  • Boost the rural economy by overhauling NAFTA rules that harm family farmers; and
  • Make the NAFTA renegotiation process transparent and participatory.
The letter warns that, “In the absence of a binding and easily-enforced agreement based on these critical measures, Mexican workers will continue to be horribly exploited, American jobs will continue to be outsourced, the environment will continue to be degraded and the wages for workers in all three NAFTA countries will continue to decline.”
A PDF of the letter, with the complete list of signing organizations, is online at: https://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NAFTAOrgSignOnLetter_032118.pdf
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Citizens Trade Campaign is a national coalition of labor, environmental, family farm, consumer and faith organizations working together to improve U.S. trade policy.

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