Despite Trump’s promises to “entirely renegotiate” what he once called “the worst trade deal in history,” his administration’s proposed changes to NAFTA are modest at best. This reversal coincides with major investments made by U.S. oil companies that have direct ties to some of the most powerful figures in the Trump administration.
By Whitney Webb of Mint Press News
Having called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “the worst trade deal in history” during his presidential campaign and repeatedly promising to “entirely renegotiate” the controversial pact, Donald Trump’s stance on NAFTA has seemed clear for months, especially after he affirmed the need to radically alter the agreement in order to “protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs” during his inaugural address in January. However, Trump remained mute on his ties to certain industries with a very strong interest in keeping NAFTA largely intact.
Just a few months after officially assuming the office of the president, Trump’s position on NAFTA seems to be undergoing a dramatic renegotiation of its own. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration is now seeking only minor changes to the agreement – citing an administrative draft proposal circulated in Congress by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Though all of the details of Trump’s proposed changes to NAFTA have yet to be made public, the Journal noted that many of the deal’s most controversial provisions will remain in place, such as arbitration panels laid out in NAFTA Chapter 11 that allow businessmen and investors to circumvent local courts. These panels, which served as the foundation for the offshore courts once proposed by the Trans-Pacific Partnership, have long been flagged as one of the key ways in which NAFTA erodes national sovereignty in favor of corporate interests.
The plan, which is by no means finalized, also calls for minor changes regarding the protection of digital trade and tougher intellectual property enforcement. The most significant change proposed thus far would allow NAFTA member nations to create tariffs if a flood of imports causes “serious injury or threat of serious injury” to those countries’ domestic industries. This measure seems to be in line with Trump’s criticisms of U.S. trade policy. However, he has frequently described the import of goods from China as having been detrimental to the U.S. economy. Any changes to NAFTA will have no effect over U.S. imports of Chinese goods.
According to The Street, the proposal doesn’t necessarily reflect Trump’s preferences, representing a compromise “between trade hawks that want to use NAFTA renegotiations to set a new trade agenda and moderates that support the U.S. commitment to free trade.” However, Trump transition officials hinted that Trump would adopt a softer stance on NAFTA months ago, with one official telling The Hill in January: “I don’t think we’re looking to rip up NAFTA as much as we are looking to right-size it and make it fairer.”
However, other evidence seems to suggest that Trump’s shifting position on NAFTA renegotiation has to do more with making NAFTA fairer for business interests closely aligned with his administration than U.S. workers…