The “Three Amigos”- the United States, Mexico and Canada – met today for the first North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) summit since 2014. This conference, which will be President Barack Obama’s last, and one held under the long shadow cast by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. On Tuesday, Trump said he will make drastic changes or withdraw from the agreement if he is elected president.
Addressing supporters in Pennsylvania, Trump described NAFTA as “the worst trade deal in history” and promised to renegotiate the terms to get “a better deal for our workers” or withdraw from the agreement inked by Bill Clinton in 1993. “Mexico is acting unfairly by promoting its own products,” Trump said, adding: “It removed its tariffs in order to become a NAFTA member but imposed a value-added tax on imports to keep being competitive.”
The sentiment Trump is stirring up is as real as the thousands of manufacturing jobs that have been lost due to globalization
Trump hailed last week’s UK vote to leave the European Union, arguing that the United States should “declare independence” in trade and block the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
US presidents have traditionally had to work around restrictions to make or break commercial agreements. But a year ago, Senate ratified a law granting the commander-in-chief the authority to fast-track negotiations that Congress can later ratify without making changes, or reject.
Obama persuaded Congress to pass the TPP despite the opposition of some Democrats and thanks to the support of Republicans who favor an unfettered market. Now, it is the Republican candidate who is railing against those agreements.
Trump may not win the November elections, as the latest polls predict, but the sentiment he is stirring up is real, as real as the thousands of manufacturing jobs that have been lost due to globalization.The business mogul likes to remind voters of the Carrier plant that plans to move its production of air-conditioning units from Indianapolis to Mexico in 2019 in order to reduce costs.
Almost five millions jobs destroyed
Fear of this kind of news has motivated the working class to vote for Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left. Though Sanders has no possibility of becoming the Democratic nominee, he has attracted much more support than expected. Sanders has attributed Brexit to the damage globalization has caused the middle classes. “That increasingly globalized economy, established and maintained by the world’s economic elite, is failing people everywhere,” he wrote in an article published in The New York Times on Tuesday. Over the last 15 years, more than 60,000 factories have closed and 4.8 million well-paid manufacturing jobs have disappeared, he added.
In the wake of Brexit and at a time when large sections of the electorate are calling on their governments to stop signing free trade agreements, Canada has just passed lifted visa restrictions on Mexicans.
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Meanwhile, the Obama administration has called for initiatives to address the gap between rich and poor that widens with each new free trade deal. Trump’s proposals may be unrealistic, such as the wall along the Mexican border, but the problems he is highlighting are very real. That’s the puzzle the “Three Amigos” need to solve.
English version by Dyane Jean-François