In the 2008 campaign President Obama promised workers he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that had cost so many jobs and wages, and devastated so many communities. When he took office, he didn't.
Recently, the administration declared that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is that promised renegotiation. So why does it look like the terms of TPP will hit us even harder than NAFTA?
Here is Obama during the 2008 campaign, promising to renegotiate NAFTA (and make it better, not worse):
Here is Obama as president, April 2009, saying never mind that promise (New York Times: "Obama Doesn’t Plan to Reopen NAFTA Talks"):
The administration has no present plans to reopen negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement to add labor and environmental protections, as President Obama vowed to do during his campaign, the top trade official said on Monday.
In June 2015 the Obama administration said that TPP is the promised renegotiation of NAFTA (PBS NewsHour: "White House makes final pitch for Obama trade fast-track"):
You will recall, Judy, that when the president ran for president back in 2007 and 2008, he made a promise to Democratic voters at that time in a Democratic primary that he would renegotiate NAFTA to correct some of the flaws that were in that trade agreement. Well, turns out, as a part of these Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, both Canada and Mexico are included in those negotiations.
And for the first time, we would write into our trade relationship with those two countries enforceable standards as it relates to raising labor standards, raising environmental standards, and actually making sure that there’s protections in place for human rights. So, this is the president keeping a promise on this.
"Renegotiation" Makes Terms Even Worse
So how is this "renegotiation of NAFTA" going? TPP is secret, but we do know some things from leaks and the things we are learning are not good at all. For example, it appears that the U.S. auto and auto parts industry – and the workers in those industries – will be hit hard.
Under NAFTA 62.5 percent of the value of cars and 60 percent of auto parts must be made in NAFTA countries, or a tariff will apply. But for TPP the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman appears to have made a deal saying only 45 percent for cars and 30 percent for parts need to be made in TPP countries – the rest of that business goes to China and other non-TPP, low-wage, low-labor-standards and low-environmental-protection countries. The result will be a huge shift of jobs and business away from American, Mexican and Canadian auto and parts makers.
Again, under NAFTA, 62.5 percent for cars, and 60 percent for parts. Under TPP, this is lowered to 45 and 30. Does that sound like an improvement or a huge giveaway?
Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) sent a letter to Froman saying that auto rules-of-origin in the North American Free Trade Agreement should be the "starting point" for the TPP. In other words, they say make TPP better than 62.5 and 60, not much, much worse.
Something we still do in the U.S. is being negotiated away so that executives can pocket even more of those lost wages for themselves. NAFTA hit us hard; now it looks like TPP will hit us much, much harder. Call your member of Congress and your Senators and tell them you want TPP to be tougher than NAFTA for U.S. workers and industries, not weaker. (And while you are on the phone, ask them why this stuff is all secret and we have to find out about these things from leaks?)