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With the new NAFTA, “there is no Alternative”

Today, the Mexican senate ratified the new NAFTA, after examining it yesterday.  It seems that two days is all it takes to debate and analyze the 38 chapters

Canada is also trying to rush through parliamentary committee hearings on the new NAFTA. The government jumpstarted the process of hearing witnesses before second reading was even completed, and limited it to 12 witnesses.  I was among them, and I stood out from my fellow witnesses representing industry groups.

During the hearing, we were told that the insecurity resulting from non-ratification was a drag on the economy, chasing away investment.  We were also told that ratifying the agreement, despite the deadlock in the U.S. Congress where Democrats have the votes to enact progressive changes, was our only option.

Meanwhile, as we try to secure the new NAFTA, U.S. President Trump regularly undermines the rules of the new NAFTA, the old NAFTA and even the WTO. Aluminum and steel tariffs, check!  Duties on Mexican imports, check!  When GM closed U.S. auto plants, right after the deal was signed, Trump again threatened Mexico with auto tariffs.  As I told the committee, in the context of a President of Perpetual Negotiation, rushing to ratify provides no security.  The rules will change. 

More importantly, the Democrats will also be working to change the agreement. They want to get rid of provisions that would raise the cost of drugs and boost environmental and labour protections.  (In Canada, 12 MPs backed a declaration asking for these drug provisions to be removed. The letter was sponsored by the Council of Canadians, the Trade Justice Network, the Canadian Health Coalition, the Réseau Québécois sur l’intégration continentale and the Union des consommateurs du Québec.)

Democrats have reopened four of their last U.S. trade agreements after they were signed.  For example, in 2006, after the Democrats gained a majority in the House of Representatives with George Bush in the White House, agreements with Colombia, Panama and Peru were altered to eliminate extreme protections for pharmaceutical firms in all three pacts as well as add improved labour and environmental standards. .  So why ratify an agreement that isn’t even finished yet?

Mexico is showing intense capitulation to President Trump’s threats.  Even with looming tariff threats, Mexico steadfastly proceeded with its ratification process. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who campaigned against neoliberal economics and for the restoration of farm life, is now swallowing a trade agreement that will undermine his agricultural programs, including price supports for farmers, and that will impose economic deregulation. 

While AMLO, as he is commonly known, regards Central American migrants as brothers, saying the solution to the migration problem is not repression but economic development in those countries, he has now been forced to accept that Mexico is a safe third country.  This means that refugees crossing Mexico to the U.S. will be forced to apply in Mexico and not the United States.  A similar arrangement prevails between the U.S. and Canada. Mexican NGOs have indicated that this will result in a humanitarian crisis.

In the 1990s, Margaret Thatcher coined the phrase There is no Alternative, or TINA, saying that corporate globalization, economic deregulation and unbridled free markets were inevitable.  In this NAFTA negotiation, the appeasement of Emperor Trump seems to be a matter of national security.  And there is nothing we can do but succumb.

But with looming global crises – impending environmental chaos, economic inequality so great that a handful of billionaires own more wealth than half the planet and most of us forced into precarious situations with our jobs replaced by robots as we move into the post-work world – it cannot be business as usual in our trade agreements. 

There is simply no alternative to having a planet. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71 per cent of harmful emissions.  With corporate globalization, these companies can pack up and leave a country when environmental rules are too burdensome and leave their mess behind. These companies are given rights to pollute and challenge laws through our trade agreements.  The new NAFTA has regulatory cooperation rules that give them just that

As Gordon Laxer wrote in his report, Billion Dollar Buyout, the new NAFTA allows the Canadian government to subsidize the Trans Mountain pipeline and outlines an energy integration strategy that encourages continuing reliance on oil and gas.

Our politicians can often be captured by the industry voices that pressure them.  We must embolden our politicians to demand more. 

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