My Vew: NAFTA needs more than 'skinny' rewrite
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is hotly contested and rapidly shifting ground. NAFTA hits home, despite the naturalness of seeing negotiations over cross-border trade and investment as way-up-in-the-sky.
The narrative driven by Wall Street and the largest of corporations says free trade is the unalterable shape of modernity and prosperity. Prosperity for them is a measure of private wealth won in globalized economic activity.
We have other ways of naming this understanding of prosperity. Truly, effects in the NAFTA years — 1994 to today — have been mostly negative for most people. Over these 24 years, vast sums of wealth have been squeezed out of the middle and working classes, and delivered to the top. (Oregon's richest 10 percent haul in 46 percent of the state's income, compared to 39 percent before NAFTA.)
The U.S. Labor Department has certified that more than 68,000 Oregon jobs have been lost directly due to trade policy in the period. These are jobs in metals manufacturing, vehicle manufacturing, pulp and paper, telecommunications, tech and many other sectors.
Our economy has lost the good jobs while the Mexican economy has created jobs of hyperexploitation, caused by ease of corporations' using Mexico as a low-cost, low-regulation environment for assembly of products that are bound for richer countries.
U.S. wages have fallen (in real terms); Mexican wages have fallen. To say the middle class has shrunk is not just a fact but a feeling, rendered from seeing our plants and mills close in communities across Oregon.
Now, as some changes that have been long demanded by working people find their way into the official negotiating stance of the U.S. trade representative, the corporate lobby resorts to squeals and squirms.
The corporate lobby got their man in Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan, to try to ensure a stop to such changes, by setting a deadline (of May 17), for when the talks for a renegotiated NAFTA needed to have wrapped up. But there should be no stopping to win the changes needed for our government's foreign and trade policy to — at last — put people and planet first.
Our Oregon members of Congress should be saying this and remembering this: The executive branch has this golden opportunity of a NAFTA renegotiation to do nothing less than fundamentally rewrite trade policy to prioritize jobs, wages, human rights, the climate and local environments, for folks within our state border and across the continent.
The recent moves by Congressional Republicans and their backers to try to make of NAFTA 2.0 a quick and superficial change which ignores 24-year critiques of NAFTA won't work. That approach didn't work to bring the U.S. into the global corporate giveaway of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and it won't work in 2018.
Trump, for his part, is not normal in terms of ability to be predicted or lobbied. That aside, Congress is making moves now, and individual members of Congress are now tasked with choosing a move that is either for people or corporations.
Russell Lum is director of Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, a coalition of 30 groups advocating fair trade policy. Reach him at [email protected]oregonfairtrade.org