Unions and lawmakers press Trump to protect workers in NAFTA talks

With NAFTA negotiations to happen next month, the Trump administration is set to release its priorities within the next 30 days under the 'fast-track' rules.

Carlos Barria/Reuters
President Trump shakes hands with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. Revising or abandoning NAFTA will likely bring the leaders of the US, Canada, and Mexico to the negotiation table.

US labor union leaders and Democratic lawmakers on Monday reminded President Trump they expect him to keep election campaign promises to protect American workers in NAFTA talks, but they stopped short of demanding termination of the 1994 trade pact with Canada and Mexico.

Their comments came hours before US trade representative Robert Lighthizer was to outline the administration's priorities for the talks. Under US "fast-track" rules, the administration must release the priorities 30 days before negotiations begin.

President Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of unions representing 12.5 million workers, said the North American Free Trade Agreement had been an "unequivocal failure" and should be completely renegotiated.

"We will do everything we can to make this a good agreement and to hold the president at this word and make sure we get a renegotiation," he told a conference call with reporters.

"If it comes out that it is not a good deal, no deal is better than a bad deal," said Mr. Trumka.

The document outlining White House priorities was expected on Monday afternoon, said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D) of Connecticut, a leading voice against trade legislation on Capitol Hill.

The Trump administration has so far offered few specifics, other than expressing its desire to modernize the pact to increase US manufacturing jobs and cut the trade deficit.

Some provisions from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), which Mr. Trump abandoned, are likely to serve as a model for NAFTA revisions, especially on issues such as labor, environment, intellectual property rights, and state-owned enterprise.

Sen. Debbie Dingell (D) from Michigan, which is home to large automakers like Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler, said she offered to work with the administration if it was serious about the talks.

Senator Dingell in the past has called for US trade deals to contain explicit provisions to deter currency manipulation by trading partners.

NAFTA has quadrupled trade among the three countries, surpassing $1 trillion in 2015. Over a decade to 2010, however, the United States lost nearly 6 million manufacturing jobs. The US trade balance with Mexico also swung from a small surplus in 1994 to deficits that have exceeded $60 billion for most of the past decade.

Bob Martinez, who heads the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said labor unions should be present at the NAFTA negotiating table.

"I am requesting such," said Mr. Martinez. "Any renegotiation that starts off with the current trade template found in TPP is unacceptable," he said.

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