Can a New NAFTA Agreement Work for Workers?
South Jersey Times Opinion Editorial.
By Donald Norcross
Any trade deal must first and foremost benefit American workers. Yet, unfortunately, since 1993, our country’s workforce has suffered because of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Some sources say almost 1 million American jobs were lost since NAFTA went into effect, although estimates of net job impacts vary greatly. Every week, more jobs are being outsourced to Mexico. In South Jersey alone we’re down 20,000 manufacturing jobs, which is simply unacceptable.
It’s clear to me that NAFTA should be replaced. But, the revised NAFTA deal called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — also known as “NAFTA 2.0” or “new NAFTA” – that President Donald Trump agreed to last year won’t stop the devastation of ongoing job outsourcing. Adding insult to injury, it could even lead to even higher drug prices.
We need to lower drug prices, but NAFTA 2.0 has been rigged by pharmaceutical companies. According to Global Trade Watch, part of the Public Citizen advocacy group, the deal contains new monopoly rights that allow the pharma companies to charge consumers more. Congressional Democrats are united in ensuring no vote happens on the USMCA unless and until this drug pricing issue is fixed.
Now that our country is renegotiating, we must get it right. Now is the time for Trump and his administration to work with Congress to fix NAFTA 2.0.
As a 2016 presidential candidate, Trump pledged to renegotiate NAFTA to stop job outsourcing. While NAFTA 2.0 offers some improvements, its labor and environmental terms and enforcement mechanisms are too weak. Let’s be clear: Without enforcement, a new deal is useless. It’s like having speed limits, but no police officers. A new deal must prevent corporations from moving jobs to Mexico to pay workers less.
There is some potential good news. Mexico recently passed labor reforms that are a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, these laws currently lack teeth. We need an agreement to include additional enforcement personnel in Mexico. The newly-formed labor agencies in Mexico aren’t funded or staffed, so inspections may never get conducted and wages for Mexican workers may remain at sweatshop levels. Today, Mexican workers are paid 40% less than manufacturing workers in China. They receive less than workers there did before NAFTA came into force 25 years ago.
And there are too many horrifying low-wage and outsourcing stories.
One occurred just across the river from my South Jersey district. Mondelez (formerly Nabisco) closed its Northeast Philadelphia bakery, relocating part of its production of iconic items like Ritz crackers and Oreo cookies to Mexico from Chicago, as well as Philadelphia. This wasn’t a move made out of necessity; the U.S.-based plants were not losing money. Profits just weren’t enough for top investors and executives.
AT&T is opening a new 1,000-person call center in Mexico where workers will be paid less than $2 per hour. The firm is targeting English-speaking deportees from the United States, whom they can pay next to nothing. Goodyear recently opened a plant in Mexico where they pay workers $1.78 per hour to make the same tires that workers at their plant in Topeka, Kansas, produce for an average of $25 an hour.
What should these examples teach us? We can’t just slap a coat of paint on NAFTA and say we fixed it. We need to make sure there are strong labor provisions in place that allow workers in every country to lift themselves up. That includes representation from all three countries to monitor labor rights and investigate violations, including issues of wage theft, union organizing, and workplace violence, as suggested by the AFL-CIO and North America’s building trade unions.
I’ve been working alongside my democratic colleagues, labor leaders and health care advocates to get the administration to rid the USMCA of giveaways to pharmaceutical companies, improve labor standards and significantly strengthen enforcement against outsourcing. If that happens, a revised version of the USMCA should pass Congress in a strong bipartisan vote.
I’m confident that a majority of my colleagues would join me in voting to help hard-working men and women. However, if Republicans try to force a vote before the deal is fixed, they’ll be responsible for more American jobs being outsourced.
We can either work together to deliver a better deal for Americans or force a vote that prioritizes pharmaceutical companies’ interests and encourages corporations to outsource U.S. jobs. For me, the choice is clear. Let’s course correct for the sake of working families.