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  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.


October 20, 2017

How Progressives Can & Must Engage on NAFTA Renegotiations

Findings from National Poll

Trade stands out from every other policy issue because Donald Trump’s unhappiness with the status quo is shared by virtually all progressive advocacy groups and nearly all Democratic Members of Congress who are otherwise fighting Trump every day. It is urgent for progressives to engage on trade because Trump has triggered the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which will likely conclude early next year or sooner if the president gives the six-month notice provided for in NAFTA to withdraw the U.S. as a signatory. The president also has the ‘fast track’ authority won by President Obama that guarantees him a vote 90 days after he submits an amended agreement to the Congress, with amendments, Senate filibuster and supermajority voting forbidden.

At a time of great peril for our democracy and deepening public opposition to Donald Trump on many fronts, he wins high marks from voters on handling trade and advocating for American workers: 46 percent approve of his handling of trade agreements with other countries, 51 percent, his ‘putting American workers ahead of the interests of big corporations’ and 60 percent, how he is doing “keeping jobs in the United States.”[1]

The Republicans continue to hold an advantage over Democrats on handling the economy in polling.[2] And frankly, Democrats’ advantage in the generic congressional ballot is not as impressive as it should be (8-point lead among registered voters but only 5 among likely voters), as Democrats in Congress seem focused on everything but economic issues.  The Democrats’ silence on the trade issue this year and in the 2016 presidential election – even though three-quarters of House and Senate Democrats opposed trade authority for the TPP – contributed mightily to Trump’s victory in many of the Rustbelt states and to the Democrats’ current disadvantage on the economy.

Progressives need to communicate that they are fighting for American jobs, for raising incomes and wages and for putting the interests of American workers before corporations who shaped NAFTA and are now using it to accelerate job outsourcing, which our research showed is viewed by voters as the greatest threat to America’s living standards.

Fighting for the right major changes to NAFTA is broadly popular among Trump voters as well as the college educated and diverse Clinton voters who are more conflicted about trade, TPP and NAFTA. Focusing on NAFTA in the right way and calling out Trump on what changes he is really fighting for allows progressives to speak powerfully on the economy, lagging wages and American jobs.

Outsourcing and trade agreements

What Donald Trump knows and all progressives must understand is that for voters, the trade issue is not about trade agreements per se. It is about the outsourcing of good paying American jobs that these agreements facilitate.

What many activists will find most challenging is how little voters dwell on the agreements themselves and how uncertain most of them are about their effects on the economy, jobs and living standards. Even though TPP was debated nationally in the presidential contest and championed by Trump and Obama, only 59 percent of voters in our recent poll could identify it now. In focus groups conducted this summer, Trump and Clinton voters struggled to remember what TPP was all about.

A sizeable number are unsure of NAFTA’s impact: 15 percent unsure on the economy, 20 percent on jobs and 26 percent on whether it damaged the environment.

People do hold strong views, become animated in focus groups, and connect the dots to their daily lives when ‘outsourcing’ is brought up. Nearly 60 percent view ‘outsourcing’ negatively, with nearly half intensely negative; only 11 percent view ‘outsourcing’ favorably, putting it in the same league with Vladimir Putin.[3]  Just hearing the word in focus groups made both non-college educated voters in the Midwest states and college-educated Seattle voters see red: those are “middle income jobs,” companies who outsource are “traitors” and “should be financially penalized.”

It is outsourcing that is at the heart of people’s anger with CEOs and big corporations that pursue profits by shifting investments to places with much cheaper labor costs, without any loyalty to their country, company and employees. That anger unites college graduates and white working class voters: 59 percent of the latter react negatively to outsourcing, and the college voters are almost 10-points more negative.

Progressives’ entry point to the trade debate is not the trade agreement themselves, but the outsourcing that people view as the biggest and growing threat to decent paying American jobs. NAFTA renegotiations give progressives an opportunity to talk about an economy where jobs don’t pay enough to live on, which will improve their standing on the economy, while also advocating for changes to NAFTA and the U.S. approach to trade that can really lead to more, better paying American jobs. 

Beyond partisanship

NAFTA is divisive and polarizing – but progressives hoping to ignore the issue allow Trump to continue to prevail on American jobs. If progressives make ‘outsourcing’ the entry point into the trade debate, they can unite Democrats and Trump voters around effective criticisms of NAFTA and messages demanding Trump deliver major changes.

Our research shows Democratic voters become critical of trade agreements and NAFTA when they realize how corporate special interests are lobbying in secret to include provisions that provide special powers to corporations to sue the U.S. government before tribunals of corporate lawyers over our laws to demand taxpayer money or insert provisions into NAFTA to reverse Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations. This was also true over the course of the TPP debate, as Democrats and progressives became educated about these very same issues. Our recent research showed that college graduates are more anti-corporate than the white working class – which explains why they react more strongly to an anti-corporate NAFTA message and against Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and its corporate tribunals.

Together, a critique of NAFTA for facilitating outsourcing and failing to put American workers ahead of corporations shifts Democrats even more dramatically against NAFTA.

Wide support for changes to NAFTA

Support for changing NAFTA is broad. A 43 percent plurality wants to see major changes to NAFTA, while just 39 percent are looking for more modest adjustments. Even fewer Trump and white working voters are looking for small changes. After hearing criticisms of NAFTA – effectively simulating the national debate on NAFTA that is unfolding – the bloc demanding major changes comes to dominate among minority voters (59 percent), metro residents (57 percent), college graduates (55 percent), and Clinton voters (51 percent) too.  

Getting this strategic context right enables progressives to focus the battle on what changes need to happen. If Trump isn’t really pushing for the kinds of changes that are most important for voters, he could be marginalized by the NAFTA debate itself.

Voters’ Top Priorities for NAFTA Change Not Same as Trump’s

The strongest attack on NAFTA is a change the administration is failing to prioritize – and one that is critically important to the progressive agenda on trade and to progressives speaking about an economy that must produce more better-paying American jobs.

The most convincing argument for major changes says that American workers are losing because NAFTA lacks enforceable “labor and environmental standards so companies can move U.S. jobs to Mexico to pay workers poverty wages” and dump pollutants and “import those products back to the U.S. for sale.” Over 80 percent of Trump voters and over 60 percent of Clinton voters found that a convincing argument against the current NAFTA. But new terms to remedy this do not appear to be at the top of the Trump trade agenda in the leaked stories about the negotiations.

The second strongest critical argument focuses on how NAFTA has facilitated the outsourcing of good “middle class jobs to Canada and Mexico” and continues to do so every week. That was a convincing argument to 85 percent of Trump voters and 61 percent of Clinton voters.

In the next tier are arguments about the safety of our food, which also receives an intense reaction. NAFTA limits our ability to ensure food safety, which is very concerning to 63 percent of Trump voters, 54 percent of white working class voters and 42 percent of college graduates.

College graduates express a lot of concern after hearing about Investor-State Dispute Settlement – or the “special powers” given to corporations to “sue the government over our health and safety laws” for unlimited “U.S. taxpayer money.” This raised concerns among 60 percent of college graduates.

Interestingly, one of Trump’s main critiques – the trade balance - scored lower and had the lowest intensity. The key here is that progressive critiques of NAFTA are the ones that voters find most concerning.

Impact of Messaging

The strongest message that gets to Trump voters, but also rings powerfully true for Clinton voters, focuses on how NAFTA facilitates outsourcing, producing an economy where people haven’t seen a pay increase in years, which will continue to worsen unless NAFTA changes.  Rather than leveling the playing field for us, NAFTA “make[s] it easier for companies to outsource jobs to Mexico” where they “can pay employees less” so since NAFTA went into effect, our wages have “been flat.” It says that major changes are needed to NAFTA or else it will continue to give the “greenlight to corporations to outsource American jobs, pushing down wages for everyone in the US.”

By transforming the trade debate into a big economic argument with outsourcing as the main problem, progressives become the advocates for more American jobs with higher wages and salaries.

After a simulated debate where everyone heard competing arguments, half a trade-outsourcing message focused on the ongoing job loss and wage decline, and half a trade-outsourcing message focused on corporate power and privileges, voters are much more likely to believe NAFTA has been damaging and demand major changes. They are more likely to say it is bad for the economy and jobs.

While the shifts are considerable no matter which argument and message, those who heard about ongoing job losses and wage decreases were much more likely to become convinced NAFTA has hurt their own ability to get good, decent-paying jobs (+21-point shift versus +13 point shift). That is the most important change if progressives are to use the NAFTA debate to improve their credibility on the economy.


[1] This memo is based on a national phone survey of 1,000 registered voters, using 60 percent cell phones, conducted September 30-October 6, 2017 by Citizen Opinion on behalf of Public Citizen. The polling was preceded by six focus groups among white working class Obama-Trump voters in Macomb County, MI and Oak Creek, WI and college educated Clinton voters in Seattle Washington in July 2017.

[2] According to a June 2017 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll of 900 adults nationwide, the Republican Party has a 7-point advantage over the Democratic Party on dealing with the economy (36 to 29).

[3] Vladimir Putin viewed favorably by 15 percent of adults nationwide in a Bloomberg poll conducted July 8-12, 2017.

October 11, 2017

As Battle Over NAFTA Investor Protections Heats Up, Trinational Coalition Delivers 400,000 Petitions Demanding Elimination of Corporate Rights and Tribunals

Investor-State Dispute Settlement Becomes Key Measure of Whether NAFTA Renegotiations Will Benefit Working People or Expand Corporate Power

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Growing public opposition to the expansive corporate privileges at the heart of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took center stage as the fourth round of NAFTA talks began today in Washington, D.C. U.S., Mexican and Canadian civil society organizations delivered more than 400,000 petitions demanding that NAFTA’s expansive corporate rights and protections and Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) be eliminated during renegotiations. [Still photos and video available of delivery event.]

“If you want to know how trade deals like NAFTA have been rigged against working people and our communities, all you need to do is to look at the Investor-State Dispute Settlement process,” said Chris Shelton, president, Communications Workers of America.

“Americans want trade deals that will add new protections for our environment, create American jobs and raising wages, not another corporate giveaway by a phony populist like Trump, said CREDO political director Murshed Zaheed. “If Trump doesn’t use NAFTA renegotiation to eliminate the Investor State Dispute Settlement provision it will further expose his administration as craven crony capitalists masquerading as faux populists.”

“The Teamsters are North America’s supply chain union. With members in long-haul trucking and freight rail, air, at ports and in warehouses, as well as members in manufacturing and food processing, this union has a big stake in trade policy reform,” said Jim Hoffa, general president, Teamsters. “We will be monitoring the modernization of a flawed and failed NAFTA, and fighting to make sure that the new NAFTA works for working families.”

U.S. officials are expected to table a proposal on the controversial NAFTA investment chapter during this week’s negotiations. NAFTA’s investor protections and ISDS make it less risky and expensive for corporations to outsource jobs and empower them to attack domestic policies that protect public health and the environment by going before tribunals of three corporate lawyers who can order unlimited compensation to be paid to the corporations by taxpayers.

Last month, more than 100 small business leaders sent a letter calling for elimination of ISDS in NAFTA. Organizations representing U.S. state legislatures and state attorneys general and hundreds of prominent economics and law professors also have declared opposition to ISDS, as has a group of Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Conservative U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has warned about the threat of ISDS. But corporate interests are scrambling to defend the controversial regime they use to attack domestic laws and raid taxpayer funds.

While just 50 known ISDS cases were launched in the first three decades of this shadow legal system, corporations have launched more than 50 claims in each of the past six years. More than $392 million in compensation has already been paid out to corporations to date after NAFTA ISDS attacks on oil, gas, water and timber policies, toxics bans, health and safety measures, and more. More than $36 billion in NAFTA ISDS attacks are pending.

“People from the Yukon to the Yucatan are united in demanding an end to NAFTA’s corporate privileges that promote job outsourcing, lower wages and attacks on health safeguards,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “A NAFTA replacement deal that benefits people and the planet cannot grant corporations powers to skirt our laws and courts and demand unlimited taxpayer compensation from tribunals of corporate lawyers.”

“NAFTA is strewn with handouts to corporate polluters that must be eliminated, starting with the free pass for chronic job offshorers to attack air, water, and climate protections in tribunals of corporate lawyers,” said Ben Beachy, director of Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program. “Any NAFTA replacement must stop protecting multinational corporations and start protecting the workers and communities across North America who have endured decades of damage under this raw deal.” 

"ISDS makes big corporations feel safer moving jobs around the globe to wherever workers are the most exploited and environmental regulations are the weakest, and it also puts democratically-enacted public interest laws in jeopardy both at home and abroad,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign. "While many changes are needed to make a NAFTA replacement deal work for working families and the planet, if trade negotiators maintain ISDS, we’ll know the NAFTA renegotiation has been hijacked by special interests intent on preserving corporate power.”

"ISDS effectively usurps democratic governance, and makes it impossible for elected governments to create policy that benefits ordinary citizens without the threat of a corporate lawsuit,” said Carli Stevenson, campaigner, Demand Progress. “As we fight to preserve the free and open internet in the United States, we stand with activists worldwide against attempts by any corporation to use trade agreements to make their profits sacrosanct and act against the interests of citizens, workers, and consumers. ISDS should not be a part of any trade agreement."

 “ISDS empowers mega-corporations to attack democratic values, human rights, and environmental protections and force governments to award their corruption and greed with unlimited payments of our tax dollars,” said Matt Nelson, Executive Director of Presente Action. “The reality is clear, forces pushing the ISDS have no loyalty to their governments or the people, only to their pipedreams to rule our public institutions like their own private castles."

“Investor-State Dispute Settlement puts power in the hands of international tribunal that do not have the best interests of workers, public health, and the environment, but rather benefit corporations looking to make a profit or gain more power,” said Patrick Carolan, executive director, Franciscan Action Network. “This is not in line with Catholic Social Teaching and Franciscan values which emphasizes the need for just and fair laws for all people.”

“Big Pharma is already demanding more extensive provisions on intellectual property in NAFTA to extend their market monopolies on medicines even longer. At the same time, it’s also pushing to expand NAFTA’s investment chapter to include intellectual property claims. This would mean pharmaceutical giants could use the system of closed-door tribunals to try to overturn important, long-standing features of a country’s laws on patents or other aspects of intellectual property, in pursuit of yet more profits for the one of the most profitable industries in the world, said Richard Elliott, executive director, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Organizations involved include:


Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

Center for International Environmental Law

Citizens Trade Campaign

Corporate Accountability International

Council of Canadians

CREDO Action

Communications Workers of America

Daily Kos

Demand Progress

Democracy for America

Derechos Digitales

Food and Water Watch Action Fund

Franciscan Action Network

Friends of the Earth

Global Exchange

Good Jobs Nation

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Interfaith Workers Justice

International Corporate Accountability Roundtable

International Labor Rights Forum

Just Foreign Policy


Machinists Union

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Open Media

Our Revolution

People Demanding Action

Presbyterian Church (U.S.)

Presente Action

Progressive Congress Action Fund

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

Sierra Club



Trade Justice Network (Canada)

United Church of Christ

United Electrical Workers

September 22, 2017

Comments Concerning the Costs and Benefits to U.S. Industry of U.S. International Government Procurement Obligations

An excerpt from Global Trade Watch's official comment submission on U.S. procurement obligations is below. For the full report, please click here

Public Citizen welcomes the opportunity to submit comments to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on U.S. government procurement obligations in trade agreements. Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer group with more than 400,000 members. A mission of Public Citizen is to ensure that in this era of globalization, a majority can enjoy economic security; a clean environment; safe food, medicines and products; access to quality affordable services; and the exercise of democratic decision-making about the matters that affect their lives.

In the context of a creeping expansion of the scope of “trade” agreements negotiated behind closed doors with hundreds of official corporate advisors, Americans across the political spectrum have become aware and upset about the ways in which today’s “trade” pacts conflict with their goals and values. As agreements have expanded far beyond traditional matters such as cutting tariffs and limiting quotas, more Americans have become engaged in demanding a new approach. As a result, the status quo U.S. trade policy model now faces unprecedented crises politically, economically and socially.

Thus, a review of trade-pact procurement terms is timely. These terms constrain how the public can direct our federal and state officials to spend our tax dollars. The rules require firms operating in trade partner countries to be treated like U.S. firms – and foreign goods to be treated as if they were made in America – with respect to many types of government contracts over a set dollar-value threshold, with some limits for U.S. defense agencies and some products. Effectively, these rules offshore our tax dollars rather than investing them to create jobs and innovation at home. As a result, currently “Buy American” now actually means companies and products from 60 countries must be given the same access to U.S. government contracts as U.S. firms and products for all but the lowest-value contracts. And 37 U.S. states are bound to such rules with respect to the 45 signatory countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA).

These terms also eliminate a reason that U.S. businesses profiting from U.S. government contracts choose to produce domestically. Such firms advocate for the current trade pact procurement rules because they allow them to relocate production to low-wage countries with U.S. trade pacts – profiting from leaving their U.S. workers behind and often also avoiding U.S. tax obligations – and still obtain lucrative taxpayer-funded contracts. Fifty-six percent of the top 50 U.S. government federal contractors in FY 2016 were certified under just one narrow U.S. government program as having engaged in offshoring, and 41 percent of the top 100 FY 2016 contractors were certified as having offshored American jobs. More than a third of total U.S. government contract spending in FY 2016 went to firms certified as having offshored jobs. This totaled $176 billion in U.S. federal government contracts in 2016. As a candidate, President Donald Trump pledged to punish firms that offshore American jobs. However, in 2017 the flow of federal contract awards to major offshorers has continued, with United Technologies, for instance, receiving 15 new awards despite offshoring 1,200 of its 2,000 Carriers job to Mexico, and notorious offshorer General Electric obtaining scores more. As described in this submission, a U.S. president has the unilateral authority to reverse the waivers to Buy American policies that facilitate this business conduct.

In addition to supporting job offshoring, the current trade pact rules on government procurement also limit the criteria governments can use to describe the goods and services they seek and what conditions may be imposed on bidders. The terms reflect the interests of U.S. corporate trade advisors interested in acquiring access to procurement opportunities in other countries and thus limiting the conditions and terms governments may require of them. But the rules apply reciprocally, meaning that they also severely constrain the ability for U.S. citizens and our elected officials to use procurement as an important policy tool. If the federal government – or a state – does not conform its policies to these constraints, then countries that are part of the agreement can challenge our policies in foreign tribunals that can impose trade sanctions against the United States until our laws are eliminated or changed.  

Given that total U.S. government procurement activity is $1.7 trillion, the implications are significant. When able to set criteria on government purchases, the U.S. federal government and our state governments have the capacity to spur innovation and further other policy goals by creating demand for specified goods and services or those produced under specified conditions. However, currently, the trade agreements with procurement terms to which the United States is a signatory impose constraints on the federal government and, to differing degrees, the 37 U.S. states now bound to comply with some of these trade pact terms. It is worth noting that in the early 1990s, when U.S. states were asked to opt in to being bound to the WTO’s GPA, few governors or state legislatures recognized that doing so would result in a form of international pre-emption that would severely limit their policymaking. As states became more aware of the threats posed, fewer and fewer were willing to become bound to these terms. By the mid-2000s, fewer than a dozen states opted in to these policy constraints in the last Free Trade Agreements (FTA) negotiated by the George W. Bush administration. Reflecting this reality, the Trans-Pacific Partnership did not cover state procurement. However, 37 U.S. states remain bound to WTO procurement policy constraints.

As this submission enumerates, the current procurement terms in U.S. trade pacts represent bad economics and limit domestic policy space, and must be eliminated. Even if the underlying notion of offshoring our tax dollars and imposing one-size-fits-all policies about how taxpayer funds may be expended was a good one in general, doing so is a losing proposition for the United States. The U.S. procurement market is much larger than any but that of the European Union. Thus in exchange for some U.S. firms obtaining some contracts in significantly smaller procurement markets, access on equal terms to U.S. firms is provided to the entire massive U.S. procurement market for any firm operating in a trade partner nation or for goods produced in such a nation, including with respect to firms from nations that provide no reciprocal access, such as China. Improved statistical reporting and information exchange is essential to track the exact impact of such terms.

Notably, a U.S. president has the authority to unilaterally exit the WTO GPA by providing 60 days written notice to the WTO Director-General and thus eliminate U.S. obligations with respect to 41 of the 45 WTO GPA parties with which we do not have FTAs. WTO rules do not provide for penalties in response to such an action. The procurement provisions of various FTAs can be eliminated or altered through renegotiation. With respect to U.S. law effectuating these international law obligations, a U.S. president also has unilateral authority to eliminate the waiver for trade pact partners of domestic procurement preferences. This element of our trade agreements is implemented by regulation, rather than in the trade agreement implementing legislation. The economic and social benefits of overhauling the U.S. approach to trade pact procurement terms are sizable.

September 11, 2017

North Korea Crisis No Reason to Preserve Failed Trade Deal; U.S. Exports to South Korea Dropped, Deficit Nearly Doubled Since Pact

 Statement of Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

 “How to peacefully resolve North Korea’s nuclear escalation is a thorny question, but what should happen with the 2012 U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement is an entirely separate question that is not complicated. We opposed the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement in 2011 when it came before Congress because we knew that any deal that has at its heart new rights and powers for corporations to offshore jobs, raise medicine prices and attack environmental, health and financial stability safeguards is bad for people and the planet.

In its five years in effect, this U.S.-Korea trade agreement proved even worse than expected. The unique outcome is that U.S. exports to South Korea actually declined after the pact was implemented. As with most other U.S. FTAs, imports into the United States soared. Thus, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea increased by 85 percent in five years. U.S. average monthly exports to South Korea have fallen in nine of the 15 U.S. sectors that export the most to South Korea, relative to the year before the FTA. U.S. exports to South Korea of agricultural goods have even fallen 5.4 percent in the first five years of the FTA.

Claims that U.S.-Korean cooperation on a mutually shared existential priority will somehow be undermined by cancelation of a trade deal that has done the opposite of what was promised is absurd. The 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in Korea are just one demonstration of U.S. support for South Korea and commitment to its defense. Hysterical foreign policy arguments are always the claim of last resort in support of a failed trade agreement, and time and again they have proved meritless. Given the broad public opposition to the FTA in Korea, ending a deal negotiated in secret with 500 official U.S. advisers representing corporate interests would be viewed by many in Korea outside the foreign policy elite as good news.”

Background information and our previous press release summarizing the Korea FTA five-year data release by the U.S. International Trade Commission on May 4, 2017

With respect to the economics of the deal’s termination, Korean tariffs would not rise to 14 percent as suggested by former-U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. An oped he wrote that ran earlier this week says levels “could” rise, a hedge to cover the reality that he is citing Korea’s bound World Trade Organization tariff rates, not their actual applied rates. (It is the “applied” rate that reflects the actual tariffs charged while the “bound” rate is the highest level to which a country could raise tariffs although only on a Most Favored Nation basis, which means with respect to all countries.) The relevant data is the applied trade weighted mean tariff level provided by the World Bank, which for Korea is 4.78 percent. The United States is at 1.63 percent. (The applied trade weighted mean is the actual average tariff level based on actual trade flows.)


May 4, 2017, Public Citizen press release

Today’s Five-Year Korea FTA Data Show March Imports from Korea Higher than Any Month But One Since Pact Started: What Is Trump’s Plan for Pact?

U.S. Trade Deficit With Korea Has Soared as U.S. Exports Fell, Imports Jumped Under 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite the Trump administration’s tough rhetoric about the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) pact, imports from Korea in March 2017 were higher than any month but one in the pact’s five years in effect.

Today’s release of new U.S. Census trade data for the first full five years of the Korea FTA spotlight statements from both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the past month that the agreement’s outcomes are not acceptable. While the Trump and Pence statements were notable for coming despite escalating military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, what the administration will do about the pact and when remains a mystery.

“Our trade deficit with Korea has increased dramatically under this agreement Trump bashed on the campaign trail, and workers in the swing stats that elected  Trump  have been hardest hit, so what will Trump do about it,” asked Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

While then-Representative Pence voted to pass the agreement in 2011, now-Vice President Pence, in an April 2017 trip to Seoul, declared the pact to be “falling short” and needing review and reform. Later that month, Trump declared of the Korea deal: “We’ve told them that we’ll either terminate or negotiate. We may terminate.”  Trump spotlighted the “job-killing trade deal with South Korea” in his nomination acceptance speech and on the stump, where he also often noted that “this deal doubled our trade deficit with South Korea and destroyed nearly 100,000 American jobs.”

Many of Trump’s trade-related campaign pledges were broken in his first 100 days, calling into question the prospects for action on the Korea pact. A powerful White House faction opposes the trade policy changes that Trump promised would deliver more American jobs and lower deficits

The agreement, sold by the Obama administration with a “more export, more jobs” slogan, has resulted in U.S. exports to Korea declining 7.8 percent ($3.7 billion) and imports from Korea increasing 13.1 percent ($8.1 billion) by the end of its fifth year. The 85 percent trade deficit increase with Korea under the pact – from $14 billion in the 12 months before the pact went into effect on March 15, 2012 to $26 in its fifth year – came in the context of the overall U.S. trade deficit with the world decreasing by 5 percent.  While U.S. goods imports from the world decreased by 7.1 percent, goods imports from Korea increased by 13.1 percent.

Defenders of the pact claim the results stem from weakness in Korea’s economy, but in fact Korea’s GDP has risen by 15 percent from 2011 to 2016 while unemployment rates have averaged 3.4 percent, hardly the indicators of a weak economy.  

Meanwhile, the U.S. service sector trade surplus with Korea has increased by only $2 billion from 2011 to 2015 a growth rate of 29 percent in its five years in effect that is notably 64 percent slower than our services surplus growth over the five years before the FTA went into effect. (Service sector data for the full fifth year of the deal will be released in October.)

Despite the Korea FTA including more than 10,000 tariff cuts, 80 percent of which began on Day One:

  • Record-breaking U.S. trade deficits with Korea have become the new normal under the FTA – in 59 of the 60 months since the Korea FTA took effect, the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea has exceeded the average monthly trade deficit in the five years before the deal.
  • Since the FTA took effect, U.S. average monthly exports to Korea have fallen in 10 of the 15 U.S. sectors that export the most to Korea, relative to the year before the FTA.
  • The auto sector was among the hardest hit: The U.S. trade deficit with Korea in motor vehicles grew 55.7 percent in the pact’s first five years. U.S. imports of motor vehicles from Korea have increased by 64.2 percent, or $6.4 billion by the fifth year of the Korea FTA.
  • Exports of machinery and computer/electronic products, collectively comprising 27 percent of U.S. exports to Korea, have fallen 20.6 and 20.1 percent respectively.
  • U.S. exports to Korea of agricultural goods have fallen 5.4 percent in the first five years of the Korea FTA, despite almost two-thirds of U.S. agricultural exports by value obtaining immediate duty-free entry to Korea under the pact. U.S. agricultural imports from Korea, meanwhile, have grown 45.4 percent under the FTA. As a result, the U.S. agricultural trade balance with Korea has declined 8.1 percent, or $554 million, since the FTA’s implementation. The Obama administration promised that U.S. exports of meat would rise particularly swiftly, thanks to the deal’s tariff reductions on these products. However, despite U.S. officials’ promises that the pact would enhance cooperation between the U.S. and Korean governments to resolve food safety and animal health issues that affect trade, South Korea has imposed temporary bans on imports of American poultry in each of the last three years, including 2017. Comparing the fifth year of the FTA to the year before it went into effect, U.S. poultry producers have faced a 78 percent collapse of exports to Korea – a loss of 82,000 metric tons of poultry exports to Korea. U.S. pork exports have also dropped 1 percent.

July 18, 2017

NAFTA Plan Does Not Describe Promised Transformation of NAFTA to Prioritize Working People

Statement of Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

 Note: Today, the Trump administration published a document on its NAFTA renegotiation objectives. Under the 2015 Fast Track law, the administration must publish “a detailed and comprehensive summary” of its specific negotiating objectives 30 days before formally beginning trade talks.

“This document does not describe the promised transformation of NAFTA to prioritize working people that some voters were expecting based on President Trump’s campaign pledges.

More than 910,000 specific American jobs have been certified as lost to NAFTA under just one narrow program, but this document does not make clear whether NAFTA’s job offshoring incentives or its ban on Buy American procurement policy will be eliminated or labor or environmental standards better than the widely rejected one in the TPP will be added.

The document is quite vague so while negotiations can start in 30 days, it’s unclear what will be demanded on key issues, whether improvements for working people could be in the offing or whether the worst aspects of the TPP will be added making NAFTA yet more damaging for working people. The administration should follow the European Union’s practice and make public its actual proposals being shared with Mexico and Canada prior to talks starting.

The Trump administration has a very narrow pathway to both achieving the president’s campaign pledges on NAFTA and passing a new NAFTA deal. Achieving Trump’s campaign-promised NAFTA deficit-lowering and U.S. job creation goals will require changes to NAFTA that GOP congressional leaders and the corporate lobby oppose and about which this document remains vague. Even if a bloc of GOP rank and file members may support elimination of NAFTA’s investor offshoring incentives and Buy American ban, which are necessary to achieve Trump’s goals, a sizeable bloc of Democratic votes will be needed to pass a new NAFTA of that sort. But GOP congressional leaders and the corporate lobby are demanding TPP elements be added to NAFTA and that will push away Democrats. Some aspects of that TPP agenda can be seen in today’s document because much of the text repeats the negotiating objectives of the 2015 Fast Track bill, which GOP leaders and the corporate lobby loved and most congressional Democrats, a sizeable bloc of GOP congressional members and labor and civil society groups opposed.”

June 15, 2017

NAFTA Legacy Series: Mexico’s Lost Opportunity

With NAFTA renegotiations about to begin, Public Citizen has compiled the latest information on how NAFTA’s outcomes measure up to its proponents’ promises. This is the fourth of a four-part expose.

To hear President Trump’s version of NAFTA, Mexico was the big winner. The reality is that NAFTA cost more than two million Mexicans lost their livelihoods related to agriculture. Mexican workers’ real wages are 9 percent lower or $1,500 less than in the year before NAFTA with median manufacturing wages of $2.50 per hour sufficient to support basic needs.

After the first two decades of NAFTA, Mexico’s real gross domestic product per capita growth rate has been a paltry 18.6 percent, ranking 18th out of the 20 countries of Central and South America. In contrast, from 1960 through 1980, Mexico’s per capita gross domestic product grew 98.7 percent. Mexico would be close to European living standards today if it had continued its previous growth rates.

And Mexican taxpayers have forked over $204 million to corporations attacking domestic laws in front of NAFTA tribunals of three corporate lawyers whose decisions are not subject to appeal.

The Mexican people – like people in the United States - were promised that NAFTA would strengthen their economy and raise wages. But after more than 20 years of NAFTA, over half of the Mexican population, and over 60 percent of the rural population, still fall below the national poverty line.

Mexican farmers suffered the worst under the agreement. Before NAFTA, Mexico only imported corn and other basic food commodities if local production did not meet domestic needs. But NAFTA eliminated Mexican tariffs on corn and other commodities and required revocation of programs supporting small farmers. Amidst a NAFTA-spurred influx of cheap U.S. corn, the price paid to Mexican farmers for the corn that they grew fell by 66 percent, forcing many to abandon farming. From 1991 to 2007, about 2 million Mexicans engaged in farming and related work lost their livelihoods. The price of tortillas – Mexico’s staple food – shot up 279 percent in the pact’s first ten years, even as the price paid to Mexican corn farmers plummeted.

To read more on NAFTA’s effects on Mexico, please click here

June 13, 2017

NAFTA Legacy Series: Empty Promises for U.S. Farmers

With NAFTA renegotiations about to begin, Public Citizen has compiled the latest information on how NAFTA’s outcomes measure up to its proponents’ promises. This is the third of a four-part expose.

Agriculture is supposed to be the winner under NAFTA, right? Um, no: the U.S. agriculture trade balance with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada fell from a $2.5 billion surplus in the year before NAFTA to a $6.4 billion deficit in 2016. The rising trade deficit in agricultural products has contributed to the loss of more than 200,000 small family farms. Since NAFTA has taken effect, one out of every ten small farms has disappeared.


Yes, we exported much more corn to Mexico since NAFTA. But our NAFTA trade deficits in beef/live cattle and vegetables outweigh those gains. And, here’s another conventional wisdom buster: even without NAFTA U.S. corn would not face tariffs in Mexico. Mexico eliminated tariffs on corn for all countries in 2008.

But government data reveals that since 1993, U.S. agricultural imports from NAFTA countries have grown much quicker than U.S. exports to those same countries, resulting in massive agricultural trade deficits. Since the Great Recession, U.S. food imports have grown twice as fast as U.S. food exports.

To read more on NAFTA’s effects on U.S. agriculture, please click here.

June 08, 2017

NAFTA Legacy Series: Corporate Courts Attack Public Interest Laws

With NAFTA renegotiations about to begin, Public Citizen has compiled the latest information on how NAFTA’s outcomes measure up to its proponents’ promises. This is the second of a four-part expose.

The key provision in NAFTA grants new rights to thousands of foreign corporations to sue the U.S. government before a tribunal of three corporate lawyers. These lawyers can award corporations unlimited sums to be paid by American taxpayers, including for the loss of expected future profits. These corporations need only convince the lawyers that a U.S. law or safety regulation violates their NAFTA rights. The corporate lawyers’ decisions are not subject to appeal. This system is formally called Investor-State Dispute Settlement.

More than $392 million in compensation has already been paid out to corporations in a series of investor-state cases under NAFTA. This includes attacks on oil, gas, water and timber policies, toxics bans, health and safety measures, and more. In fact, of the 14 claims (for more than $50 billion) currently pending under NAFTA, nearly all relate to environmental, energy, financial, public health, land use and transportation policies – not traditional trade issues.

While this shadow legal system for multinational corporations has been around since the 1950s, just 50 known cases were launched in the regime’s first three decades combined. In contrast, corporations have launched approximately 50 claims in each of the last six years. ISDS is now so controversial that some governments have begun terminating their treaties that include ISDS.


As corporations and law firms become emboldened and more creative in their uses of ISDS, it is likely only a matter of time before U.S. taxpayers are on the hook: as long as NAFTA is in effect, more than 8,500 corporate subsidiaries from Canada and Mexico are empowered to use ISDS to challenge our policies.

To read more about how these tribunals of three corporate lawyers have been operating under NAFTA, please click here.

June 06, 2017

NAFTA Legacy Series: Lost Jobs, Lower Wages, Increased Inequality

With NAFTA renegotiations about to begin, Public Citizen has compiled the latest information on how NAFTA’s outcomes measure up to its proponents’ promises. This is the first of a four-part expose.

NAFTA was sold to the U.S. public in 1993 with grand promises of improved trade balances and more jobs. Instead, more than 910,000 specific American jobs have been certified as lost to NAFTA – due to rising imports and offshoring – under just one narrow government program that undercounts the damage.

And the United States’ trade small trade surplus with Mexico and small deficit with Canada crashed into a $134.3 billion deficit – counting both goods and services.   The U.S. goods trade deficit with NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico increased 521 percent – it was $173 billion in 2016 - as annual growth of that deficit was 47 percent higher with Mexico and Canada than with countries that are not party to a NAFTA-style trade pact – a group that includes China. And, annual growth of U.S. services exports to Mexico and Canada since NAFTA has fallen to less than half the pre-NAFTA rate.  


As we lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs, wages were pushed down economy-wide. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, two out of every five displaced manufacturing worker rehired in 2016 experienced a wage reduction, with one out of four taking a cut of greater than 20 percent. For the average manufacturing worker earning more than $38,000 per year, this meant an annual loss of at least $7,700. And as these workers joined the glut of those already competing for non-offshorable service sector jobs, wages in these growing service sectors were also pushed down.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research has discovered that the trade-related losses in wages now outweigh the gains in cheaper goods for the vast majority of U.S. workers.

Lost jobs and lower wages have exacerbated income inequality to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Even proponents of NAFTA admit that trade pressures have likely contributed to today’s historic degree of inequality. The pro-NAFTA Peterson Institute has estimated that 39 percent of observed growth in U.S. wage inequality is attributable to trade trends.

To read more about NAFTA’s effects on the U.S. economy, jobs and income inequality, please click here.

May 22, 2017

Ecuador Says No to ISDS, Exits BITs*

After years of sustained activism in Latin America and across the globe, the President of Ecuador recently terminated its remaining 16 treaties that empower multinational corporations to challenge its laws before panels of three corporate lawyers and demand unlimited sums of taxpayer money.

By terminating treaties that include the corporate-rigged investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system, Ecuador is the latest country to prioritize its people over corporate rights.

Ecuador’s decision to terminate its ISDS pacts was spurred by firsthand experience with some egregious cases, particularly with Big Oil. For example, Chevron is looking to avoid paying for its massive pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon. And, Occidental Petroleum received a $1.4 billion award against Ecuador despite having obviously violated its contract with the government.

In response to citizens’ uproar against ISDS throughout Latin America, in 2013, the Ecuadorian government established an audit commission of government officials, academics, lawyers and civil society groups to analyze the costs and benefits of the country’s existing treaties and make recommendations.

On May 8, the government made public the Audit Commission’s 688-page report, which recommended that the government should terminate its remaining treaties and develop an alternative investment treaty model that removes ISDS and rebalances the rights of citizens over corporations.

The Audit Commission reported that the treaties had failed to deliver on promised foreign investment and had, in fact, undermined the development objectives laid out in Ecuador’s constitution. The report found that Ecuador had been forced to pay nearly $1.5 billion to multinational corporations (equivalent to 62 percent of its annual health spending), and that, under currently pending cases, the government runs the risk of having to pay out $13.4 billion (more than half the government’s entire annual budget for 2017).

Ecuador’s President Raphael Correa heeded the advice in the Audit Commission’s report and on May 16, 2017, issued executive decrees that terminated the existing treaties, including its treaty with the United States.

Ecuador joins countries — such as South Africa, Indonesia, Bolivia and India — that have terminated their investment treaties. Meanwhile, Mercosur and the South African Development Community have recently explicitly excluded ISDS from their respective investment protocols.

And Ecuador’s move away from ISDS-enforced treaties mirrors the growing movements in Europe and the United States to stop the expansion of corporate power through ISDS. Bipartisan opposition to ISDS in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a significant reason that the deal could never achieve majority support in the U.S. Congress. The wave of opposition to ISDS in Europe also helped to stall the U.S.-EU negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Worldwide, the tide is turning against the notion that multinational corporations and investors should be granted extraordinary rights and the ability to enforce them against governments in a corporate-rigged, extrajudicial system. Ecuador’s announcement shows that the diverse movement of civil society, legal scholars and government officials concerned about ISDS are making progress in rolling back the regime.

In the United States, the upcoming renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an obvious opportunity to demand that ISDS be eliminated from any NAFTA replacement.

As pressure grows worldwide for governments to withdraw from the ISDS system, the Trump administration has 60 days before it must reveal its position. (Under Fast Track, the administration must publicly post a detailed description of its negotiating plans 60 days after the initial notice.)

Given that ISDS was a key contributor to the U.S. Congress’ opposition to the TPP, it is not surprising that the administration’s NAFTA renegotiation notice was greeted by demands from Congress and civil society that ISDS elimination must be a top priority.  

*Updated 5/22/17 .

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