Frame this Kodak moment; I agree with President Trump as he calls NAFTA the worst trade agreement in American history. We have been on this trajectory since 1961, and NAFTA was the foot on the gas of a car crashing through plate glass…
Trump now wants to fulfill one of his core campaign promises; to make better a deal for American workers. The Trump administration will begin to renegotiate NAFTA on Wednesday with counterparts from Mexico and Canada. The first round of talks are to kick off in Washington, D.C. hopefully, this goes better than his efforts to repeal and replace, well, you know…
Ignoring the past as prologue…
While every president likes to pretend that the jobs issue is the fault of the last administration, Trump blames NAFTA for millions of lost jobs and thousands of shuttered factories in America. Nonpartisan congressional research concluded in 2015that NAFTA didn’t cause a jobs exodus, although many other studies have concluded the exact opposite.
About 14 million American jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a business advocacy group. But roughly 800,000 jobs were lost to Mexico between 1997 and 2013, to the Economic Policy Institute, a research group. Moreover, this study leaves out jobs lost to Chinese and Indonesian workers.
Trump even credited his tough talk on NAFTA with getting him to the White House. Trump supporters have reported that they voted for him in part to see him renegotiate better deals. Although, he never really said how on the campaign trail so it’s not clear exactly what Trump plans to do to get that “better deal.”
When U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer outlined the administration’s NAFTA objectives in July, he included a top goal which was to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico, which last year hit $63 billion.
A spanking like last summer?
Last summer, when Candidate Trump went to Mexico, he looked like a chastised toddler standing next to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto when his “build the wall” rhetoric was at full tilt, only to be re-energized two hours later by his base at an Arizona rally. Could this be a repeat?
Trump’s ultimate aim is to increase the number of American factory jobs. One possible way to do that is to force companies to produce more parts in the United States. There is a key part of NAFTA known as “rules of origin.” It means a certain percentage of parts in a product, such as a car, must originate from North America.
For example, 62% of the parts in a car sold in Mexico, Canada or the United States must come from there. The Trump administration has hinted it could raise that percentage and that it plans to more strictly enforce the standards for rules of origin. However, trade experts caution that forcing more parts to be made in America could mean car prices go up.
— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) August 14, 2017
Trump’s team also runs the risk of contradicting the very trade deal Trump has bashed. Experts say his administration’s list of NAFTA objectives is nearly identical to key parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Trump withdrew from that deal before it became law, but not before making his opposition to it a center piece of his campaign, sounding more like Bernie Sanders…But U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says TPP’s sections on labor and environmental standards are a “starting point” for NAFTA negotiations with Mexico and Canada.
Trump promised Americans he would bring together the best negotiators to get a new deal. He appointed Ross, Lighthizer, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro to lead on trade policy. Meanwhile, Lighthizer tapped John Melle, a career USTR official who was not nominated by Trump, to lead the talks. Melle was on the original USTR staff in 1993 that helped get the deal across the finish line in Congress. NAFTA became law in 1994.
So much for the swamp and that sort of thing…Sleep tight.