Sherrod Brown on NAFTA talks: This time workers must be at the table


The corporate lobbyists flew in from all over the country. An official at Washington National Airport said there were more corporate planes on the runway than he’d ever seen. Merrill Lynch took out a full page ad in Roll Call. Major corporations sent giant gift baskets to congressional offices.

What was the occasion? Tax reform? No— it was 1993,and we were in the throes of the fight to stop the North American Free Trade Agreement.

American corporate leaders had come up with a new business model: shut down production in Toledo or Dayton, grab a tax break for the road, ship their production to Reynosa, Mexico or Wuhan, China, and then sell their products back to the United States.

These corporations and their flacks in Congress wrote NAFTA — and every trade agreement since then — to aid and abet this business model that exploits workers and hollows out entire communities.

These agreements are written behind closed doors by corporate lobbyists, while American workers are locked out. That’s how we end up with trade agreement after trade agreement that props up this business model and sells out workers.

Now, we have a chance for a reset.

The administration and Mexican and Canadian officials will open the first round of talks to begin renegotiating NAFTA on Wednesday. Workers must be paramount in these negotiations — we can’t make the same mistakes we’ve made over and over since 1993.

We know exactly what causes outsourcing: low wages, exploited workers and weak or non-existent environmental protections in other countries. That’s why this time, we must secure strong anti-outsourcing provisions up front, before we even sit down at the negotiating table.

American jobs shouldn’t be up for negotiation. We should not move forward with any agreement until Mexico agrees to enforce strict worker and environmental protections. By setting high standards, putting workers ahead of corporations and refusing to compromise on outsourcing, we can create the best possible deal for workers in all three countries.

We also must stop pitting American workers and industries against each other as bargaining chips in a negotiation. If we allow the conversation to be about American farmers versus American manufacturers, we are negotiating against ourselves.

The administration should develop individualized negotiating strategies and objectives for each sector of the economy — and stick to them.

Developing plans to address the unique needs and vulnerabilities of each sector in advance will ensure American workers and industries aren’t sacrificed during negotiations for the sake of simply reaching a deal.

We also know that even the best trade deal means nothing if it’s not enforced. Any new deal must include stronger enforcement tools to hold countries accountable if they break the rules. And we have to do away with special courts that allow multinational corporations to undermine U.S. laws and take advantage of American workers.

These corporate courts are called investor-state dispute settlement and they’ve got to go.

Finally, and most importantly, workers must have a seat at the table.

In 1993 it wasn’t only the lobbyists who took an interest — Americans were engaged like never before, and it was pretty clear whose side they were on. One congressman told me that every time members went home to their districts, the pro-NAFTA side lost votes, as more and more ordinary workers made their voices heard.

But there was one difference — those workers were back home, in towns across the heartland. They didn’t have corporate jets. They weren’t in Washington, in the thick of negotiations. And in the final agreement, it showed. We can’t make that mistake again.

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THEIR VIEW

By Sherrod Brown

USA Today

Aug. 15, 2017

Sherrod Brown is a Democratic senator from Ohio and the author of Myths of Free Trade. He was a House member in 1993 and voted against NAFTA. Follow him on Twitter: @SenSherrodBrown