Hoffa: A New, Pro-Worker NAFTA

By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Detroit News, June 7, 2017

The Trump administration in the next week will receive scores of comments on how to best revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) so it creates a pact built for a 21st century economy. And the Teamsters want to make sure there is a pathway to prosperity for millions of U.S. workers who were left behind in the deal’s first incarnation.

 As I’ve stated before in this space, that doesn’t happen by opening the nation’s highways to Mexican-domiciled trucks and drivers that don’t meet American safety and certification standards. Motorists and the nation’s health have been jeopardized because of it. NAFTA 2.0 must strip such language out of any agreement going forward.

Beyond that, however, there are many improvements that can be made that will help secure, and even grow, middle-class jobs in this country. The renegotiation of NAFTA is a historic opportunity. The U.S. has an opportunity to lead the way to replacing this flawed agreement with one that will set new priorities that put working families first.

To start, the administration must take action to add labor rights provisions that beef up the weak and unenforceable labor side agreement included in the original NAFTA. That language has been ineffective in enforcing basic labor rights, especially in Mexico. Workers here and across the globe need the inclusion of provisions that will safeguard them going forward, in future trade deals that will use a new NAFTA labor chapter as a model.

That new labor chapter must have a robust new labor rights chapter that prohibits child labor and forced labor and protects the freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain through an independent union. In addition, these new labor rights must be enforceable by the same or better trade sanctions that protect commercial interests.

Any updated North American trade pact must also include a new chapter addressing currency. The current trade deal took affect a year before the 1995 peso crisis and before the U.S. understood how its trading partners managed their currencies against the dollar to increase their exports. It is now clear that enforceable disciplines are needed against currency manipulation and should be a template for future trade agreements.

Finally, there is a need to beef up the existing rules of origin when it comes to automobiles. Currently, North American-made vehicles only need to be made with 63.5 percent of its parts from this continent, allowing third-party nations to enter the supply chain with low costs parts that put Americans out of work.

But there is also a need to strike several other provisions currently included in NAFTA. The chapter addressing investor-state dispute settlement introduced corporate courts into the trade deals, giving foreign companies superior rights to U.S. firms in secret arbitration chambers.  Just like the Teamsters and others demanded it be taken out of the failed Trans-Pacific Partnership, so must it be here.

Additionally, NAFTA 2.0 must protect “Buy American” federal procurement provisions. As it stands, the trade deal undermines the program by requiring the federal government to treat foreign bidders as if they were U.S. bidders. Any update must eliminate language that undermines domestic or local preferences.

When it comes down to a new NAFTA, it’s really pretty simple. The current administration can fix the deal by being transparent with the process and removing some bad provisions and inserting some good ones that benefit workers, consumers and U.S. manufacturers. The Teamsters stand ready to help with the effort.