Sen. Sherrod Brown: White House “chaos” may sink new NAFTA

WASHINGTON—White House chaos may prevent the GOP Trump administration from negotiating a “new NAFTA” to replace the controversial jobs-destroying U.S.-Canada-Mexico “free trade” pact, a top pro-worker senator says.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, made that prediction in a November 14 conference call with thousands of Communications Workers leaders and activists nationwide. President Donald Trump and congressional Republican leaders still seek a new NAFTA by the end of this year, but the last round of talks, in Alexandria, Va., ended in some discord.

The talks are not scheduled to resume until next year, but Brown told one caller that disarray within the White House West Wing could add to the delay.

“Given the chaos within the White House, what are the chances of NAFTA being renegotiated?” one Ohioan asked Brown in an e-mailed question relayed by CWA Legislative Director Shane Larson.

“I wish you hadn’t asked me that,” Brown joked, before adding seriously, “I’ll be damned if I know.”

“But I don’t think this president has a lot of depth in understanding these trade agreements,” Brown said, even though unfair foreign trade which costs U.S. workers jobs is one of the few areas where Brown said he agrees with Trump.

Brown told CWA any new NAFTA must include enforceable workers’ rights, and provisions to raise Mexican workers’ pay and labor protections. Brown, other Democrats and workers and their allies state NAFTA’s lack of labor rights, its non-enforcement and Mexican collusion with corporations led to at least a million U.S. jobs being shipped south of the border.

“We need a strong labor chapter to increase Mexican labor standards,” Brown said.

Any new NAFTA also should abolish the Investor-State Dispute System (ISDS), a secret pro-corporate trade court businesses now use to challenge government laws – from job safety and health to the minimum wage – that could harm present or future profits. CWA President Chris Shelton, who hosted the conference call, has been pushing the same theme.

The delay may help workers and their allies, however. Brown said Trump’s U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, shares his boss’ opposition to the 25-year-old trade pact, especially the ISDS. Trump and Lighthizer want a pact that wipes out Mexico’s trade surplus with the U.S., among other goals.

But they, plus workers and their allies, face opposition from congressional GOP leaders and the business lobby, who are campaigning heavily to renew NAFTA now, Brown said.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.