Hoffa: Trade Deal Should Help Workers

By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
​Published in the Detroit News, March 1, 2017

Michigan has seen firsthand the terrible damage trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have brought to this country. Nearly 200,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the state since the deal took effect, and it is estimated NAFTA has cost the U.S. more than 700,000 jobs overall as of 2013.

That is unacceptable, but not surprising given the $173 billion trade deficit this country had with Canada and Mexico as of last year. Trade policy changes are needed to rebalance the scales between North American nations. Luckily, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and other House members came together last month to roll out a blueprint of just how to do so.

The resolution, H. Res. 132, outlines a number of key provisions that must be included in the text of any renegotiation of NAFTA, which President Trump made a priority during last year’s election. These include strong, enforceable labor and environmental standards, protections against currency manipulation and the removal of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process that gives foreign corporations the ability to contest U.S. laws in front of a private tribunal.

Those are all-important steps that would help workers. But the proposal would also eliminate language that has hampered the U.S. auto and trucking industries in recent years. Those issues have often been overlooked but hold significant importance.

A change in rules-of-origin on cars and auto parts could have a significant effect for workers in Michigan, for instance. Currently, NAFTA only requires automobiles to be 62.5 percent made in North America to qualify for duty-free treatment. Dingell and other supporters rightfully support increasing the threshold to 90 percent of a vehicle’s value.

“We need to change the law so we get back to an agreement that means we are building it here in this continent and here in this country,” Dingell said during a Feb. 16 Capitol Hill event. “Donald Trump said he wanted to reopen NAFTA. We are standing here ready to do it.”  

Fixes are also needed when it comes to enforcing strict safety and environmental requirements for any commercial vehicles domiciled in other countries. As it stands, NAFTA requires the U.S. to open its roads to all North American trucking traffic, even if it doesn’t follow U.S. laws. Changes must be made that would require foreign-based vehicles and drivers entering the U.S. to meet highway safety and environmental standards before being granted access to the nation’s transportation systems.

The resolution calls on the White House to initiate a renegotiation of the trade deal no later than June 1, and that all of the resolution’s provisions must be agreed to by Mexico, Canada and the U.S. before the agreement can be approved.

The Teamsters and other unions are endorsing this measure because it provides a roadmap for the U.S. Trade Representative and the Trump administration to follow if they want to fix this broken trade deal. Agreements like NAFTA have undermined the manufacturing industry in Michigan and this country for decades, sending numerous jobs overseas.

It is long past time to negotiate fair trade agreements that protect working families and provide good jobs in Michigan and all of America.