A New York Times story today on Obama's trip to Mexico tomorrow underscores a point we made last week: Obama's visit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada shines a spotlight on NAFTA's 20-year legacy of damage, casting a long shadow on Obama's unpopular attempt to Fast Track through Congress the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping pact built on the NAFTA model. The Times reports:
The whirlwind visit...will offer Mr. Obama a chance to reassure his counterparts about his capacity to deliver at a time when he faces significant hurdles at home. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders in Congress, oppose legislation giving him authority similar to that of his predecessors to negotiate trade deals.
That ill-favored legislation is an attempt to revive Fast Track, the Nixon-era maneuver that empowered the executive branch to unilaterally negotiate and sign sweeping "trade" deals, locking in the contents before Congress got an expedited, no-amendments, limited-debate vote. In addition to Pelosi and Reid, most House Democrats, a bloc of House Republicans, and about two out of three U.S. voters oppose the administration's current push to renew Fast Track so as to skid the controversial TPP through Congress.
Among the reasons for the broad opposition to a Fast-Tracked TPP is the 20-year legacy of NAFTA. For many people throughout North America, NAFTA's damage has been tangible: job losses, wage stagnation, displaced livelihoods, unsafe food, and exposure to toxins. The Times cited our comprehensive report, released last week, that details the empirical record of NAFTA's damaging first twenty years:
But even two decades after Nafta, debate still rages about its merits or drawbacks. Ms. Wallach’s group released a report last week compiling government data to argue that not only did Nafta’s promised benefits not materialize, but that many of the results were the opposite of what was promised, citing lost jobs, slower manufacturing and large trade deficits.
It is the lived experience of NAFTA, not an abstract ideology, that has prompted 53 percent of the U.S. public to say that we should “do whatever is necessary” to “renegotiate” or “leave” NAFTA. Seeing such opposition, Obama promised to renegotiate NAFTA as a presidential candidate in 2008. His current push to Fast Track the TPP represents a stunning flip-flop that threatens to replicate the very NAFTA-style damage that Obama criticized on the campaign trail. Incredibly, Obama administration officials are now trying to sell the TPP as honoring Obama's renegotiation promise -- an Orwellian move that our own Lori Wallach has been quick to counter. The Times reports:
Michael B. Froman, the president’s trade representative, tried to reassure Democrats on Tuesday that the administration would be sensitive to their concerns about workplace and environmental standards in putting together the new trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. He noted that as a candidate, Mr. Obama promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as Nafta.
“And that’s exactly what we’re doing in TPP, upgrading our trading relationships not only with Mexico and Canada but with nine other countries as well,” Mr. Froman said in a speech at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group in Washington.
That assertion drew scorn from critics. “I don’t think that expanding on the Nafta model and extending it to nine more nations was what the unions, environmental groups or Democratic Party activists had in mind when Obama said he would renegotiate Nafta,” said Lori Wallach, a trade expert at Public Citizen, a liberal advocacy group.
The administration's TPP sales pitch is unlikely to convince the broad majority of the U.S. public that wants to renegotiate NAFTA and halt a NAFTA-expanding TPP. If NAFTA's two-decade legacy of tumult and hardship makes it politically impossible to Fast Track through Congress the TPP, it would constitute a unique benefit of an otherwise damaging deal.