Monthly Archives: March 2019

Why Wendy’s Is Facing Campus Protests (It’s About the Tomatoes)

A drive in college towns aims to get the fast-food chain to follow McDonald’s and Walmart in buying tomatoes grown under strict labor standards.


A program created by a group that organizes farmworkers has persuaded companies like Walmart and McDonald’s to buy their tomatoes from growers who follow strict labor standards. But high-profile holdouts have threatened to halt the effort’s progress.

Now the group, a nonprofit called the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, is raising pressure on one of the most prominent holdouts — Wendy’s — which it sees as an obstacle to expansion.

The Immokalee workers’ initiative, called the Fair Food Program, currently benefits about 35,000 laborers, primarily in Florida. Over the last decade, it has helped transform the state’s tomato industry from one in which wage theft and violence were rampant to an industry with the some of the highest labor standards in American agriculture.

“They’ve already been successful in a measurable way at effectively eliminating modern-day slavery and sexual assault, and greatly reducing harassment,” said Susan L. Marquis, dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif., who has written a book on the program. “Pay is substantially higher for these people.”

But only 20 to 25 percent of tomatoes in the United States are purchased from growers that take part in the program, the organizers estimate.

By late 2014, a few years after the program was up and running, Wendy’s had ceased buying winter tomatoes from Florida and was importing most of that supply from Mexican farms, where forced labor and physical abuse are common. Wendy’s said the change was unrelated to the Fair Food Program.

“The smaller brands look at Wendy’s refusal to join the program and make a decision,” said Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a former farmworker who is a leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. “If this is how big corporations are behaving, then it is O.K.”

Under the Fair Food Program, buyers like Walmart and McDonald’s agree to pay 1 to 4 cents more per pound of tomatoes. The growers, in turn, agree to pay farmworkers at least the local minimum wage, to which the premium adds a bonus, and to meet a set of labor standards like providing shade and water for workers and ensuring freedom from physical and sexual abuse. Some of the practices are required by law but flouted on many farms.

Heidi Schauer, a Wendy’s spokeswoman, said in an email that the company required its tomato suppliers to submit to third-party reviews of their human rights and labor practices. She said the chain had recently committed to buying all of its tomatoes from indoor greenhouse farms, most of them in the United States and Canada, which “strengthens our commitment to treat people with respect.”

Protesters outside a Wendy’s restaurant in Carrboro, N.C., who are part of an effort by a nonprofit, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, to pressure the fast-food chain to buy its tomatoes from growers who have agreed to follow strict labor standards.
Several experts questioned the value of such reviews, which are often superficial, as well as the suggestion that greenhouse farms provide more humane work environments.

“Indoor greenhouse farms are not inherently better in terms of labor conditions,” said Margaret Gray, an associate professor of political science at Adelphi University who has studied farm labor conditions.

In recent weeks, activists affiliated with the Immokalee workers have stepped up pressure at several universities for Wendy’s to sign on to the Fair Food Program.

The effort borrows its strategy from a campaign that student activists connected to the Immokalee workers waged against Taco Bell. Over nearly four years, supporters on several campuses persuaded officials to either remove the chain from campus or block it from doing business there in the future. In 2005, Taco Bell’s parent company agreed to buy its tomatoes through the program, becoming the first major company to sign on.

Like Taco Bell, Wendy’s is potentially susceptible to protests on college campuses. A significant number of Wendy’s customers are in their teens and 20s, according to Mark Kalinowski, an industry equity analyst.

One recent focus of the campaign against Wendy’s is the University of Michigan, where, according to a statement from the company in late January, its campus franchisee has chosen not to seek to renew its lease.

Wendy’s later said the franchisee had made the decision a few years ago. But the announcement came just before the local City Council and the university’s student government passed resolutions advocating boycotts of Wendy’s.

Last week, the Board of Aldermen of Carrboro, N.C., a town near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, passed a resolution urging Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program. And the mayor of Gainesville, home to the University of Florida, has placed a similar resolution on the agenda of a City Commission meeting this week.

In an interview, the mayor, Lauren Poe, said that he intended the resolution as a way of supporting farmworkers, not opposing the university, but that he hoped the school would ban the Wendy’s that operated on campus until the company joined the Fair Food Program.

The actions coincided with a series of demonstrations organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, whose members are descending on the universities of North Carolina, Michigan and Florida and Ohio State University this week and next.

Juan Antiaon was among demonstrators who marched through the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There is a Wendy’s restaurant on campus.CreditTravis Dove for The New York Times

On Tuesday, scores of students and other supporters gathered in front of an administration building at the University of North Carolina, where several speakers, including the human rights activist Kerry Kennedy, implored the school to oust Wendy’s from campus.

Officials at the University of North Carolina and the University of Florida say the Wendy’s on their campuses obtain their tomatoes through another company, Aramark, which takes part in the Fair Food Program.

While Wendy’s is the immediate target, there are other big companies refusing the Immokalee group’s demands, including Costco and the grocery chains Publix and Kroger. None of those companies responded to a request for comment, but a statement on the Publix website says that the chain regards the campaign as a labor dispute between its suppliers and their employees and that it is “not our place” to get involved.

Unless more companies commit to buying tomatoes through the Fair Food Program, growers who haven’t joined will continue to have a market for their products and may not feel pressure to raise their labor standards.

“I’m sure there are people that look at all of us who did join the program and viewed it as an opportunity to go do business with brands that didn’t want to sign up,” said Jon Esformes, chief executive of Sunripe Certified Brands, which grows tomatoes in Florida, Georgia and Virginia.

Sunripe agreed to join the program in 2010. Like other growers in the program, it must show new workers a video about their labor rights and let the Immokalee group provide education sessions for workers at least once per season. Workers are urged to report abuses to a 24-hour hotline, which is monitored by an independent council that investigates complaints.

The council also regularly audits farms for compliance. Fair Food auditors interview at least half the workers on a farm — often hundreds of them — which is far more than conventional auditors typically interview. Growers found to have violated the program’s code of conduct can lose access to buyers.

The stakes go far beyond tomatoes. In the coming years, the Immokalee workers hope to bring their model to a variety of crops in many states, where tens of thousands of workers are still vulnerable to abuses.

But to do so effectively, said James Brudney, a law professor at Fordham University who has studied farm labor, it is important to show buyers and growers that they can’t avoid taking part in the long run.

“They want to be able to make clear that this is a serious market penetration,” Mr. Brudney said.

Follow Noam Scheiber on Twitter: @noamscheiber.

Published in the New York Times

Call Your Reps to Say No To High Medicine Costs.

Call on Representatives Clarke, Velazquez, Rose, and  Jeffries to sign the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter (below) which objects to extending big pharma patents that would extend outrageously high drug prices in time and extend those outrageous prices to people in Mexico and Canada offering investors higher returns and sick people more suffering.

https___live.ft.com_var_ftlive_storage_images_events_2018_ft-pharma-pricing-and-value-summit-2018_887804-45-eng-GB_FT-Pharma-Pricing-and-Value-Summit-2018March 24, 2019
The Honorable Robert E. Lighthizer
U.S. Trade Representative
600 17th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20508

Dear Ambassador Lighthizer:
We write to express our strong opposition to provisions that limit access to medicines in the revised NAFTA agreement, also known as United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Without changes to the underlying trade agreement, patients will pay the high price of prescription drugs for longer and experience no relief from the financial burden often imposed on them and their families by unaffordable medication. We, thus, encourage you to amend the USMCA to increase competition and enhance patient access to more affordable prescription drugs, reflecting the balance achieved in the bipartisan May 10, 2007 agreement. The USMCA would keep drug prices out of reach for patients by increasing and locking in 10 years of marketing exclusivity for brand biologics, expanding the scope of brand biologics eligible for protection, and making it easier for brand-name drug companies to extend their monopolies through additional patents, patent extensions, and other forms of patent “evergreening.” As recently noted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), brand biologics now represent 40 percent of all spending on prescription drugs and, from 2010 to 2015, comprised 70 percent of the growth in drug spending.1 Brand biologics are “forecasted to be the fastest growing
segment of drug spending in the coming years.”2 Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned provisions, the USMCA would only exacerbate this trend. Unless the USMCA text is amended, it would limit Congress’ ability to adjust the biologics exclusivity period, instead locking the US into policies that keep cancer and other drug prices high while exporting this model to Mexico, which has no additional exclusivity period for biologics, and to Canada, which has an eight-year period. In order to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for America’s patients, patient access to more affordable biosimilars must be enhanced and not delayed by additional monopoly protections for brand biologics. A recent Politico/Harvard poll found lowering  prescription drug prices as one of the top overall priorities for the new Congress, with 89 percent of Republicans and 94 percent of Democrats saying it is “extremely important.”3 In contrast, however, polling from Morning Consult found 75 percent of the public is concerned that the USMCA will negatively impact drug prices and 81 percent believe our trade policies should increase – not decrease – access to affordable medicines.4 We, therefore, request revisions to the access to medicines provisions in the USMCA to make them consistent with the bipartisan May 10th standard. Improving patient access to more affordable medicines, in particular biosimilars, is essential to lowering prescription drug prices and a critical component of the Administration’s Blueprint to Lower Drug Prices. Otherwise, the USMCA only double downs on the unsustainable trend of skyrocketing prescription drug costs by extending the monopoly protections awarded to brand-name drug companies.
We look forward to your reply and would be glad to work with you to improve the access to medicines provisions in the USMCA to benefit America’s patients.

You can also help by SIGNING THE PETITION


1 FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D.Remarks on the Release of the FDA’s Biosimilars Action Plan, July 28, 2018, available
2 Ibid.
3 Politico/Harvard, “Americans’ Health and Education Priorities for the New Congress in 2019,” January 2019, available online.
4 Morning Consult, “Americans believe the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement (USMCA) will keep drug prices high,” October 26-28, 2018, available online.

A Fair Trade Agenda: Renegotiating NAFTA for Working Families

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, representing over 75 members in the U.S. House of Representatives, is proud to present its proposals in “A Fair Trade Agenda: Renegotiating NAFTA for Working Families.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-25 at 9.54.01 AMUnfortunately, American trade policy currently rewards corporations that offshore jobs, drive down wages, and increase unemployment and underemployment. These wide-ranging trade agreements, including NAFTA, were negotiated in secret with hundreds of corporate advisors on the inside, while the public and Congress were shut out.

At the heart of NAFTA are special protections for corporations that make it easier for them to outsource jobs and empower them to attack our laws before panels of corporate lawyers that can order unlimited payments of our tax dollars to multinational corporations. Instead of leveling the playing field, NAFTA has made it easy for companies to continue outsourcing jobs to Mexico so they can spend less on workers and pollute more. Using just one narrow classification, almost one million American jobs already have been certified by the U.S. government as lost due to NAFTA.

Since NAFTA was implemented, U.S. wages have remained flat and Mexico’s already-low wages are down 9 percent. We must replace NAFTA with a deal that raises wages and eliminates NAFTA’s incentives to outsource American jobs. Essential to preventing outsourcing is the addition of strong, binding labor and environmental provisions that meet fundamental international standards and that have swift and certain enforcement, as well as the elimination of NAFTA’s investor protections that make it less risky and cheaper to outsource jobs. If NAFTA renegotiations lack enforceable labor and environmental standards, corporations will continue to outsource U.S. jobs in order to pay foreign workers poverty wages and dump toxins, only to then import products back into the U.S. – damaging the health and economic wellbeing of communities here and abroad.

The Trump Administration has stated that the goal of renegotiating NAFTA is to get a much better deal for American workers. Yet, given that the Trump Administration has implemented so many policies that blatantly attack workers by undermining their wages, benefits, health and safety, many Americans are skeptical that helping workers is the real goal of President Trump’s NAFTA renegotiations. Moreover, President Trump’s view of NAFTA is that somehow Mexican workers have benefitted at the expense of U.S. workers. In reality, the main beneficiaries have been the large corporations that shaped NAFTA’s terms, not Mexican workers. Since NAFTA was implemented, real wages in Mexico are down 9 percent and 1.9 million Mexicans engaged in farming and related work have lost their livelihoods. Mexico’s poverty rate two decades into NAFTA – 55.1 percent in 2014 – was higher than the 52.4 percent when NAFTA began in 1994, meaning 20.5 million more Mexicans now live in poverty.

The process by which the Trump Administration is renegotiating NAFTA does little to instill confidence that a new deal will stop putting corporations before people. Hundreds of trade advisors representing corporate interests continue to have special access to U.S. proposals and draft negotiating agreement texts, while these documents are kept secret from the public and are largely inaccessible to most Members of Congress. Without input from the American people and their elected representatives, the Trump Administration could make NAFTA even worse for workers.

Making NAFTA better for workers will require a wholesale transformation of the agreement. The corporate protectionism that is now at the pact’s core must be removed, and new, binding terms that that prioritize working families must be its new pillar. President Trump promised to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and raise American workers’ wages. If he fails to get a deal to replace NAFTA that levels the playing field by securing binding labor and environmental protections, more Americans will be forced into part-time and other low-paying jobs that do not support families, leading to continued wage stagnation across the continent.

This is why the Congressional Progressive Caucus, representing over 75 members in the U.S. House of Representatives, is proud to present its proposals in “A Fair Trade Agenda: Renegotiating NAFTA for Working Families.”

Among the Caucus’s policy demands are robust and binding labor and environmental standards across all partner countries to end outsourcing; an open and democratic process for renegotiating; an end to the secretive, investor-friendly tribunal system that gives big corporations special rights; an expansion of Buy American procurement provisions; support for communities of color disproportionately harmed by NAFTA; and an end to corporate handouts that promote monopoly power.

Read the full paper here.

What Trump’s Updates to NAFTA Mean for the Internet

Perhaps the biggest change in the quarter-century since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed has been the way the internet has fundamentally reshaped how human beings socialize, share culture and do business.


Just like the broad reduction in global tariffs following World War II, the digital revolution has driven economic growth around the world by reducing transaction costs, enabling specialization and expanding markets.

But the internet’s full potential as a catalyst of human progress is threatened by digital industrial policies, data protectionism and other backward-thinking interventions that erect virtual walls around a naturally global network. In order to combat this scourge, the newly negotiated U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) updates NAFTA with new rules on digital trade that will be critical to secure free trade and innovation in the twenty-first century. While the USMCA needs significant improvement in some areas, its digital trade provisions set a strong precedent for future trade negotiations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the digital economy accounted for 6.5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product in 2016, contributing $1.3 trillion that year. The McKinsey Global Institute has estimated the internet was responsible for 21 percent of all global economic growth between 2005 and 2009, a period when there were half as many internet users as there are today. Meanwhile, a recent report from the World Trade Organization (WTO) foundthat in 2016, the value of e-commerce transactions totaled $27.7 trillion, the overwhelming majority of which were business-to-business transactions.

Unfortunately, not everyone is free to experience the full benefits of the internet age, because so many national governments restrict access to online services and websites. Some of those restrictions are meant to censor ideas or reduce foreign influence. Others are driven by a desire to protect privacy or intellectual property rights. A growing number of protectionist restrictions steer the economic gains of online commerce to domestic businesses in pursuit of digital industrial policy.

To counter this trend, the USMCA prohibits a broad range of digital trade restrictions. Under terms of the agreement, governments cannot impose tariffs on digital content or force foreign companies to share software source code. The USMCA also facilitates cross-border online shopping by raising the value threshold for shipments allowed to bypass formal customs paperwork and enter duty-free. The agreement’s most important digital trade provisions enshrine policies essential to the effectiveness and operation of the global internet, such as the free flow of data across borders.

When governments limit cross-border data flows, they effectively build a wall around the internet and force their own citizens to stay behind it. Data localization measures surely benefit some, such as those who own domestic data centers or operate inferior locally-based web services. But just as with any form of protectionism, restricting data flows impedes the growth of downstream jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities while fostering inefficient domestic industries dependent on rent-seeking and government privilege.

The USMCA contains a commitment not to “prohibit or restrict the cross-border transfer of information” unless that restriction is “necessary to achieve a legitimate public policy objective” like privacy protection. Even then, the measure cannot be more restrictive than “necessary to achieve the objective.” The provision is strongly worded and would prevent governments from imposing protectionist restrictions disguised as privacy or security measures.

Another essential policy mandated by the USMCA is liability protection for online intermediaries. It may seem arcane and technical, but liability protection is a core policy of the laissez-faire approach that enabled the digital revolution to occur in the first place. In the United States, laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act prevent website operators from being held liable for the conduct of users on their sites. In many foreign countries, web companies who offer common services like online shopping, video sharing, and even web search are forced to navigate a difficult environment and find they can be held liable for the actions of third parties.

Liability protection also means companies can run websites where users share files, stream videos, review products, post classified ads or do a thousand other things that are part of everyday life on the web, without the constant fear of being sued for defamation or infringement. Together with a strong fair use exception in copyright law, liability protections are a key reason why the world’s most successful and innovative internet companies were built in America.

Securing these protections in other countries through the USMCA and future trade agreements will help American companies provide more services to more people around the world. But the most important reason to spread the permissive American system is to allow for a future in which more entrepreneurs and small businesses, who don’t have compliance departments or lobbying shops, will be able to help develop the next wave of innovative services.

While the substance of the USMCA’s digital trade rules is very good, it’s unfortunate that they will only apply to the United States, Mexico and Canada. In order to protect the global internet from protectionist barriers, the United States will obviously need to push for digital free trade beyond its friendly neighbors in North America. That means participating in regional trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Trump administration unwisely abandoned. Moreover, that means working toward difficult compromises with China, which the Trump administration has relentlessly antagonized. Finally, it means relying on multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO), which the Trump administration is actively undermining.

Despite all that, opportunities for progress continue to arise. At the World Economic Forum last month, it was announced that China had finally agreed to join the United States, the European Union and a host of other countries in negotiating new e-commerce rules to liberalize e-commerce within the WTO framework.

With political courage and leadership, the United States remains well-poised to spread the policy of digital free trade as a central part of a strong global trading regime. Updating NAFTA with good provisions on digital trade is a step in the right direction and sets a useful precedent for future negotiations.

Bill Watson is an associate fellow at the R Street Institute. Clark Packard is Trade Policy Counsel at the R Street Institute.

From National Interest


AFL-CIO Executive Council Statement- New Orleans

aflhq960-1For more than a quarter-century, North America’s working families have raised our voices for a better trade policy. The defenders of corporate-dominated trade rules too often portray trade as an end in itself. But trade is not an end, it is a means. Trade policy must be judged by whether it leads to a just, inclusive and sustainable economy.  An economy that works for all, regardless of race, gender or national origin and that in particular lifts up the most vulnerable. By that measure, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has driven the outsourcing of so many good jobs, has been a catastrophic failure.

We reaffirm our commitment to labor rights and decent work for workers in all nations. Economic justice cannot be achieved by continuing to give global firms free rein to abuse workers and exploit the environment in a race to the bottom disguised as “free trade.” Nor can we allow trade agreements to be vehicles to achieve other corporate agendas that undermine the interests of working people and our families.

This is nowhere more true than in North America, where trade relations are governed by NAFTA. Its key failure was built into its structure: setting up a system of rigged trade, in which global firms could increase profits by transferring production to Mexico where they could take advantage of systemic worker repression, exploiting both U.S. and Mexican workers in the process. By design, NAFTA distorted power relationships in favor of global employers over workers, weakened worker bargaining power and encouraged the de-industrialization of the U.S. economy. NAFTA contains not a single rule to ensure that working people and our employers prosper together, even though its proponents falsely claimed that was the inevitable outcome.

After a quarter-century of this race to the bottom, workers in all three NAFTA countries find it more difficult to form unions and negotiate collective bargaining agreements. We face greater inequality. We face ever more powerful monopolies. And the United States faces a growing trade deficit, despite promises by the Administration to address this imbalance.

The NAFTA renegotiation requires strong labor rights provisions and strong enforcement provisions that as of today are not yet in the agreement. In addition, as the current draft of the new NAFTA recognizes, Mexico must enact and fully and effectively implement reforms to its labor law to end the race to the bottom for workers in all three countries. This will require the upfront guarantee of sufficient resources for enforcement. This must happen before Congress takes up any new NAFTA deal.

But if the Administration insists on a premature vote on the new NAFTA in its current form, we will have no choice but to oppose it.

We measure the new NAFTA (also known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement or USMCA) against three basic principles. First, the purpose of an economy is to raise living standards and improve the well-being of its citizens. Second, every country has legitimate national interests, and it is the appropriate role of public policy to pursue those interests while not imposing burdens on the people of other countries. Third, a new trade policy should prioritize the public interest, rather than allowing powerful private interests to achieve outsized gains at the expense of the rest of society.

The announcement that NAFTA would be renegotiated raised workers hopes and expectations of a new deal would be founded on these principles. The agreement to date does not meet those expectations.

Most importantly, the new NAFTA does little to stop the continued outsourcing of U.S. jobs to Mexico across all sectors, including aerospace, electronics, appliances, food processing,  heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) products, paint finishing systems and booths, and other manufacturing. For example, it does not prevent U.S. corporations like General Motors or Carrier from closing plants and hurting workers and communities across the supply chain. Provisions like the auto labor value content requirement, which appear promising on the surface, are actually likely to be ineffective at addressing outsourcing. Nor does the deal address existing inequities, including permitting employees of Mexican railroads to operate trains within the United States while Mexico maintains a prohibition on the reverse scenario.

The new NAFTA includes some modest improvements. But its labor rules repeat the flaws of past trade agreements. The new NAFTA’s labor rules must be significantly strengthened.  The new agreement must ensure that the labor rules will be swiftly and certainly enforced. While we have provided numerous recommendations for how that could be accomplished, none of them are included in the draft. Targeted improvement in labor enforcement is absolutely essential because without it, the agreement’s substantive provisions are of little value.

An effective enforcement mechanism must have mandatory monitoring and reporting, assurance that action will be taken promptly when violations occur, and, critically, an avenue by which workers can intervene when governments lack the will to act. Moreover, it must have a guaranteed funding stream to ensure that technical assistance, monitoring and enforcement occur. The new NAFTA has none of these. Simply put, without assurance that labor rules will be enforced, we have no confidence that the deal will change the terms of trade.

The original NAFTA allowed a party being accused of violating the deal to block the dispute settlement process. This proved harmful to working people in all three countries.  In subsequent trade agreements, the United States abandoned this failed notion. But the new NAFTA revives this failed idea. This means that outsourcing, downward pressure on wages and labor standards and growing inequality are likely to continue.

The new NAFTA will not end the race to the bottom in the workplace, but it is by no means the only failure of this deal. It will also keep drug prices high by expanding monopoly power for brand-name pharmaceutical companies. This provision will hurt workers in all three countries, but it will especially hurt Mexico’s workers.  We cannot limit the future health policy choices for North American countries simply because Big Pharma seeks to use NAFTA to lock in and increase its profits.

The labor movement has made clear that we need a new deal that makes a real difference in stemming outsourcing and improving workers’ lives. Work on this issue is far from complete. Among the changes we have requested are:

  • Strengthened labor rules, including explicit reference to International Labor Organization language that clarifies fundamental labor obligations and the elimination of footnotes that make the rules difficult to enforce;
  • New and strengthened rules (including rules of origin) for all manufacturing sectors to promote more U.S. domestic content and high-wage production, including the strengthening of the $16 per hour labor value content rule, rules for rail cars, steel, aluminum and other manufacturing sectors, and appropriate floor wage provisions;
  • Strengthened environmental rules and enforcement;
  • The elimination of rules that allow foreign investors to continue to use a private justice system (ISDS) to challenge non-discriminatory public interest laws and regulations;
  • The removal of rules that undermine strong public interest regulations and chemical safety;
  • The removal of provisions that undermine income, health care and pension plans for creative arts workers (Articles 19.17 and 20.89);
  • An assurance that the United States, Mexico and Canada may require government contractors to comply with the deal’s labor rules (Article 13.7.5);
  • An assurance that food labeling (including country-of-origin labeling) that lets families know where and how their food is produced is not a trade violation; and
  • The creation of additional tools to address outsourcing, including in the aerospace, auto, baked goods, HVAC, call center and processed meat industries.

We are eager to work with the Administration and Congress to improve trade for working people. However, to support any final deal, we must be confident that it will reduce incentives to outsource, help Mexico eradicate systemic wage suppression and begin creating new, high-wage, high-road jobs in all three countries. We must be confident the final deal will not undermine our ability to protect working families or to reform the American economy, including with respect to health care. It also must strengthen our partnership with Canada to address global trade issues and not treat America’s partners as our enemies.

With respect to other trade relationships, including with China, Japan, the European Union and the United Kingdom, our standards remain the same. Trade that works for all must replace the current and ineffective trade rules written by and for global companies. While the Administration has taken steps to begin addressing the untenable structural U.S. trade deficit with China, it is not at all clear that their approach will succeed.  Steel and aluminum tariffs should be lifted from allies like Canada, so that we can work in coalition to confront predatory trade tactics.

Fairer trade must be part of a larger strategy to rein in decades of anti-worker economic rules written by global corporations. We need policies that will raise wages and make it easier for workers to form a union, both here and abroad. With respect to the aviation sector, open skies agreements must promote fairness and prevent the spread of flag-of-convenience operating schemes that undermine or otherwise violate established labor standards. With respect to China, a corporate approach focused on fulfilling the wishes of CEOs who seek to profit without concern for workers or human rights must end.

The labor movement rejects the proposition that we must choose between corporate-dominated trade rules on the one hand and xenophobic economic isolation on the other. Neither is remotely acceptable. It is possible to have trade rules that lift wages and treat all countries fairly.

The NAFTA renegotiation is a chance to improve the lives of working people in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but the AFL-CIO will not support a deal that fails to live up to that promise. The labor movement is united in our judgment that the new NAFTA does not yet meaningfully address what is wrong with the original NAFTA. As a threshold matter, any Congressional consideration of it must wait until Mexico has enacted and fully and effectively implemented labor law reform that ensures that working people are free to join unions and negotiate better wages.

The AFL-CIO commits to educating working people about what is happening in this process. And we commit to work with our brothers and sisters in Canada and Mexico and with the governments of all three countries to make the NAFTA renegotiation work for working people. However, the current effort by the business community to pass the new NAFTA is premature, and if it continues, we will be forced to mobilize to defeat it, just as we mobilized to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Food movement coalitions: Know of any?

Writer Marion Nestle has been giving talks on how to strengthen the food movement and her two-word answer is this: build coalitions.

M76LOJVV75AH3OLKEZ75NVWBGQThe food movement includes thousands of organizations working on food issues. For real power, those organizations need to unite around common goals. “Cheap food has become an indispensable pillar of the modern economy. But it is no longer an invisible or uncontested one. One of the most interesting social movements to emerge in the last few years is the “food movement,” or perhaps I should say “movements,” since it is unified as yet by little more than the recognition that industrial food production is in need of reform because its social/environmental/public health/animal welfare/gastronomic costs are too high.

As that list suggests, the critics are coming at the issue from a great many different directions. Where many social movements tend to splinter as time goes on, breaking into various factions representing divergent concerns or tactics, the food movement starts out splintered. Among the many threads of advocacy that can be lumped together under that rubric we can include school lunch reform; the campaign for animal rights and welfare; the campaign against genetically modified crops; the rise of organic and locally produced food; efforts to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes; “food sovereignty” (the principle that nations should be allowed to decide their agricultural policies rather than submit to free trade regimes); farm bill reform; food safety regulation; farmland preservation; student organizing around food issues on campus; efforts to promote urban agriculture and ensure that communities have access to healthy food; initiatives to create gardens and cooking classes in schools; farm worker rights; nutrition labeling; feedlot pollution; and the various efforts to regulate food ingredients and marketing, especially to kids.” Read more on Food Movements  from Michael Pollan here.

At a recent talk in Berkeley, Marion was asked if she could name some food movement coalitions.  She had trouble thinking of any, but the audience popped up with suggestions and she’s added a couple more.

  • California Food and Farming Network is dedicated to advancing state policies that are rooted in communities, promote fairness and racial equity, secure financial prosperity and advance environmental sustainability.  It tracks legislation and publishes a scorecard.  50 member groups.
  • La Via Campesina: 182 organizations in 81 countries advocate for peasants’ rights, food sovereignty, and social justice and oppose corporate-driven agriculture that destroys social relations and nature.
  • National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA):  It’s more than 500 organizations advocate for policies and programs to promote healthy eating and physical activity.
  • National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: Its 120 member groups advocate for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities by supporting small and mid-size family farms.
  • Rural coalition: “Our mission is to build an equitable and sustainable food system that is beneficial to people of color, small farmers, rural and tribal communities.”  50 member groups.

If you know of others, please let her know at  She will be tracking these.

The next step: a union of coalitions?

White House on collision course with Democrats over labor issues in new NAFTA

The Trump administration is stepping up efforts to get House Democrats to support the new North American trade pact — but for now, the White House appears content to let the deal’s fate on Capitol Hill depend on Mexico’s willingness to improve its labor laws.


U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with the House Democratic caucus on Wednesday, kicking off a process House Speaker Nancy Pelosi established for members of her conference to voice their criticism of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

One of Democrats’ top concerns is to ensure Mexico implements labor law reforms required under the new trade pact — and to guarantee the deal’s high labor and environment standards can be enforced. Democrats also have reservations about provisions they say could lock in high prescription drug prices.

After the meeting, several Democrats praised Lighthizer for his accessibility, but the administration and House Democrats seem to be on a collision course over how to enforce Mexico’s labor commitments.

Lighthizer “knows we’re not there yet. Mexico has to make some moves beforehand, to show good faith,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). “We need that, first of all. If they don’t act, there’s no chance of getting the votes.”

Some House Democrats, including Pelosi, have said they will wait for Mexico to pass a law to make necessary labor changes — a commitment it made as part of the deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. That law would overhaul Mexico’s labor structure, ensuring that workers have a right to collective bargaining and that secret votes are held when a labor pool considers whether to unionize.

The so-called USMCA specifies ratification could be held up if Mexico doesn’t follow through on the promised changes.

“The enforceability of it all depends on the Mexican government changing its laws,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.). “We don’t actually have direct punitive actions in the agreement itself, if these provisions do not change. My question was: What if they don’t pass the laws? What are the consequences?”

Some lawmakers remain worried Mexico will backpedal on its commitments, which the Mexican Senate had initially been set to pass last year. However, the administration of Mexico’s new populist leader, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has said the Mexican Senate, which is led by his party, is now likely to pass the necessary legislation in April.

“With USMCA or without USMCA, President López Obrador has labor reform and labor justice and labor democracy at the center of his agenda,” Luz María de la Mora, Mexico’s trade undersecretary, said last month. “I will find it extremely difficult to believe that [Pelosi] will not understand that what Mexico is doing is substantive — it’s major.”

Regardless of Mexico’s domestic actions, Democrats continue to raise concerns that the trade deal’s rules make it hard to enforce any violation of its provisions. They also are skeptical about how the administration might address the larger issue of enforceability.

Labor unions and other groups have said the deal maintains provisions from the original NAFTA that allow a country to block dispute settlement panels, a mechanism that allows countries to hold a party to the agreement accountable if that nation violates terms of the agreement. NAFTA critics say the loophole has rendered the existing state-to-state dispute settlement process meaningless.

Lighthizer told lawmakers on Wednesday, as he has said previously, that concerns over enforcement could be addressed through forthcoming legislation to implement the agreement rather than by reopening the deal to further negotiation.

“He said we’re going to address it in the implementing bill, and you could see Speaker Pelosi shaking her head because that’s not the way we’re going to do this,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

Jayapal, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said there is precedent for renegotiating trade deals in order to get them passed in Congress. The Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations all made changes to pacts after they were negotiated to garner necessary support on the Hill.

“We can do that again, and I think that is what it will require,” she said.

But even if the USMCA were to be reopened, Lighthizer indicated to another group of lawmakers this week that he doesn’t support a move that would ditch the ability of the U.S. to block dispute-settlement panels. In a meeting Tuesday with members of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of more moderate Democrats who support free trade, Lighthizer said that flexibility is important for U.S. sovereignty, according to sources in the room.

But the administration’s trade chief also stressed that the implementation process could include language that would limit the blocking of panels only in cases of national importance, sources told POLITICO.

Chu said Lighthizer mentioned on Wednesday that implementation of the deal may include some kind of “enforcement agreement” that could be invoked if Mexico doesn’t uphold its labor commitments.

“I would rather have enforcement provisions in the agreement itself,” she said.

Lighthizer has also used López Obrador’s government as part of his reasoning against reopening the pact. The U.S. trade chief has said in various meetings with Democrats that renegotiating USMCA could prompt Mexico’s populist leader to ask for big changes to the deal.

Mexico and Canada have both expressed an unwillingness to renegotiate USMCA.

“It’s take it or leave it,” de la Mora said. “Mexico is not considering any renegotiation of any kind. This is what we have and this is what we’ll have to learn to live with.”

Some lawmakers disagree with Lighthizer’s assessment on why revisiting provisions of the deal is not the best course to take.

“Honestly, the provisions we want to change, the new Mexican government is more progressive. So, when it comes to enforcement for workers in Mexico … I think their administration would be very accepting to [that issue],” said Rep. Mark Pocan, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

But in spite of their concerns with elements of the deal, several lawmakers praised Lighthizer for his willingness to listen to Democrats, a departure from the rancor that has largely defined the party’s relationship with the Trump administration.

“The one thing that was interesting about it was that everyone applauded his accessibility. His availability to answer questions,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “I think there was a broad agreement that, of the trade reps, he has been the most available.”

Some lawmakers went even further: “I really trust him,” Pascrell said.

The credibility Lighthizer has developed in many Democrats’ eyes could be an asset as he looks to meet an ambitious goal to gain overwhelming support for the deal.

“Ambassador Lighthizer said he doesn’t just want 218 votes, he wants 318 votes,” Jayapal said. “Well if he wants 318 votes, he is going to have to make some changes because I’m not clear we can get to 218.”

Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report for Politico.


We Need A Real NAFTA Replacement.


The path to creating a trade system that puts the necessities of people and protection of the planet before trade designed for transnational corporations begins with stopping Trump Trade, NAFTA 2.0, referred to as the US-Mexico-Canada Agreements (USMCA). Many of the shortcomings of the original NAFTA remain and the reforms made are inadequate to warrant support for those who believe in fair trade that puts people and planet before corporate trade. The path to a trade regimen we need begins by stopping Trump Trade.

For 25 years, the US, Mexico, and Canada have been locked into the corporate-friendly North American Free Trade Agreement. Now, with NAFTA discussions re-opening, we have a chance to break out of this mold and develop a new model for an international agreement. Trump’s new NAFTA proposal, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), is not the deal we’ve been fighting for. During negotiations, over 1000 civil society groups outlined objectives for a new NAFTA. Comparing the USMCA text to these demands, we see that the agreement falls far short.

Instead of making needed changes for the 21st century, USMCA preserves the outdated corporate agenda of NAFTA and locks us into a new era of deregulation. With its fake sunrise clause, we would be stuck under corporate rule for at least another 16 years, likely many more, stifling progress towards a real alternative. A grassroots movement stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now, it is time to stop NAFTA 2–which is very similar to TPP–and build the movement for a new model. This article reviews the USMCA, how to stop it, and alternatives to corporate trade.

NAFTA spurred a failed wave of corporate globalization around the world. Now it’s time for a new model, not Trump’s NAFTA 2. The USMCA must be defeated and replaced with a North American agreement that puts people and planet ahead of corporate profit. If you are involved with an activist or community group of any kind you can generate discussion and action around this. Call and email your representative now!

Congress and Beyond

The USMCA is full of corporate tricks and treats. It not only maintains the worst aspects of NAFTA, but it also includes new provisions to further empower transnational corporations. The new NAFTA would increase the cost of life-saving biologic medicines, roll back food safety and GMO regulations, and give new rights to the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies. It’s no surprise, then, that big pharma, agribusiness, and fossil fuel companies are lobbying for the deal. They spent $45 million to pass USMCA in 2018 and are now leading a $15 million lobby campaign to push USMCA through Congress.

The US, Mexico, and Canada signed the USMCA on November 30 of last year. To become law, USMCA must be approved by the congresses of all three countries. But, there are some major hurdles in the US. The most significant roadblocks come from House Democrats, but Trump’s border wall and insistence to maintain steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico don’t help. For their part, Democrats have honed in on two of the worst aspects of the new NAFTA–rules that extend monopoly protections for big pharma and the lack of labor and environmental enforcement mechanisms.

The USMCA would increase the cost of prescription drugs through patent protections that go significantly beyond NAFTA. It would give pharmaceutical companies at minimum 10 years of market exclusivity for biologic drugs (including new cancer treatments and vaccines), protecting drug companies from cheaper generic medicines and driving up the price of medicine in all three countries. This is not in accordance with US law and is being opposed by unions, public interest groups, and citizens.

As the Washington Post points out, “working-class white voters who switched from Barack Obama to Trump are deeply angry about soaring prescription drug prices” and strongly oppose patent protections in Trump’s new NAFTA. When Trump puts on his populist cover, he too wants to lower the cost of medicine. With USMCA, his true stripes are revealed.

This is a huge sticking point in Congress. Even free-trade-friendly Democrats are outraged by this handout to pharmaceutical monopolies. AP reports that this could be the “political bomb” that derails USMCA in the House. House Democrats are preparing a statement to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer requesting changes to the data protection provisions in USMCA. Many say they will not vote in favor of the deal without this revision.

The other “political bomb” of USMCA is the lack of monitoring and enforcement for labor and environmental laws. Without enforcement, even the best public interest protections–which are few and far between in the new NAFTA–would be meaningless. The USTR Labor Advisory Committee highlights a few minor improvements in the USMCA regarding workplace violence, migrant workers, and wage-related benefit payments. But, they write, “unenforced rules are not worth the paper they are written on.”

NAFTA environmental enforcement mechanisms are so weak that the US government has never even used them against a trade partner, despite widely documented abuses. USMCA negotiators found a way to make this basically non-existent enforcement even weaker. How can this be? Three USMCA articlesallow “a government that is committing environmental abuses to block a case from advancing,” thus eliminating the last possibility of government interference in environmental crimes.

Democrats say they won’t pass a deal unless it is renegotiated to remove pharmaceutical monopoly protections and include enforcement. But Canada, and especially Mexico, do not want to renegotiate. Mexican Trade Undersecretary Luz María de la Mora told reporters, “it’s take it or leave it…Mexico is not considering any renegotiation of anything.”

So, where will US Democrats stand if there is no renegotiation of these key provisions? Will they cave to the interests of big business and give Trump a political victory or listen to constituents and the movement calling for a new model of North American agreement?

Let’s Talk Strategy

We know that the USMCA is loaded with corporate giveaways. Big pharma monopoly protections and lack of enforcement are just the tip of the iceberg. But, the tip alone is tipping this deal to its demise. We need to keep pushing on these key issues from which USMCA may never recover. We also need to keep other issues and the bigger picture in mind. This will help to bring new people and organizations into the movement, creating new pressure points on members of Congress.

Many people yawn when they hear the words ‘international trade,’ ‘regulatory cooperation,’ or ‘investor rights.’ This language doesn’t say much about the living impacts of “trade” deals like the USMCA which impact virtually every regulation in North America. We can be more specific. One person may care about the price of a cancer medication or the ingredients in their children’s food. Someone else might care about how much they are paid at work or the water quality of a nearby river. To win in Congress, we need a strong movement outside of Congress that builds national consensus on what a better model looks like. The more voices the better.

Right now there must be two strategies. First, we need to keep the pressure on House Democrats who are the most likely to stop USMCA in Congress. We need to make sure they don’t yield to the interests of big business. Second, we need to build consensus on a new model and get this into the 2020 presidential election discourse.

Democratic Party presidential hopefuls have no need for Trump’s unpopular NAFTA 2. Even if Trump pulls out of NAFTA, as he is threatening to do if USMCA is not passed, the next president could negotiate an agreement that reflects what people across the continent are demanding. We have to start showing candidates now, that another model is possible.

Democratic Party presidential candidates like Senators Bernie SandersElizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown have consistently been opposed to corporate friendly free-trade agreements of the Clinton-Obama era. If we keep the pressure on them, they will lead the debate. Other potential candidates like former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Vice President Joe Biden support free-trade. Somewhere in the middle are Senators Amy KlobucharCory Booker and Kamala Harris. In 2016, the movement to stop the TPP forced Hillary Clinton, who had supported the deal as Obama’s Secretary of State, to withdraw her support. We must do the same in the upcoming primaries so that all candidates reject NAFTA, USMCA, and corporate trade in favor of a new model.

USMCA and Another Way

As discussed, the USMCA lacks labor and environmental enforcement mechanisms.  But this is just part of the problem. Even if there were enforcement, the USMCA lacks good rules to enforce. Further, the new NAFTA includes two ways–ISDS and good regulatory practices–that allow corporations to change or repeal regulations that hurt their profits. USMCA is fundamentally oriented towards corporations, not people or the planet, which is why it must be stopped altogether and not simply reformed.  Stopping the USMCA will allow us to go back to the drawing board. A better model for North American trade is achievable if we maintain that focus.

A new North American agreement needs strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards. It needs to raise wages in all three countries, support unions, repeal right-to-work laws, and end the outsourcing of jobs and pollution. It needs to protect small and indigenous farmers, sustainable food systems and consumers by strengthening food labeling and inspections of imported foods. It needs to make medicine and health care more accessible and affordable. It needs to protect wildlife, clean air and water, and the health of our communities. It needs to address climate change head on and defend the most vulnerable communities from environmental disasters. Trade must be used to obtain positive goals that reduce inequality and treat people with dignity. It must prioritize reparations to indigenous peoples and black and brown communities through financial compensation and decolonization and respect the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations to control what happens on their land. Any new ‘trade’ deal must be negotiated through a democratic and transparent process that includes public participation with broad swaths of society, not just corporations. NAFTA 2 falls far short of meeting these basic criteria.

Dr. Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese write, the “new NAFTA framework remains trade for corporations while undermining health, the environment, food, and worker rights.” NAFTA 2 provides new avenues for corporations to challenge public interest laws that hurt their profits. It maintains NAFTA offshoring of jobs and pollution as well as buy american and buy local waivers for Canadian and Mexican industries. The USMCA facilitates the expansion of chemical agriculture and GMOs while undermining food safety inspections and labeling. It encourages dirty energy from fracking and tar sands and fails to even mention climate change. As the recent IPCC report shows, we don’t have 16 years to start talking about climate change.

In terms of offshoring, the current language of USMCA allows corporations to send jobs and pollution to Mexico where environmental and human rights protections are often lower. For instance, this new NAFTA would allow metal recyclers to send toxic used car batteries to Mexican recycling factories that do not have lead exposure controls and where workers have and continue to get lead poisoning.

In terms of energy, fossil fuel companies are major winners of the new NAFTA. Instead of moving North America towards renewables, USMCA locks us into oil and gas. According to the Sierra Club, the USMCA maintains NAFTA rules that prevent the U.S. government and the Department of Energy “from determining whether gas exports to Mexico or Canada are in the public interest.” This basically is an automatic guarantee of gas export which would “increase fracking in the U.S., expand cross-border gas pipelines,” and create greater Mexican dependency on natural gas, which has been the main contributor, way more than any other fuel type, to Mexico’s recent increase in climate pollution.

Also in Mexico, the USMCA will lock in the government’s recent deregulation of oil and gas. Big oil successfully lobbied for two ways–ISDS and good regulatory practices–to challenge the Mexican government if it tries to nationalize its energy sector agan.

The USMCA also supports tar sands, though in a little different way from NAFTA. NAFTA supported tar sands with the proportionality rule that locks in tar sands oil extraction in Canada. USMCA, on the other hand, supports tar sands by making it cheaper for oil companies to export Canadian tar sands through U.S. oil pipelines. This could make it harder to shut down existing tar sands pipelines like Keystone Phase 1, Enbridge line 6b, line 5, and line 17 as well as stop new ones like the proposed Enbridge line 3.

USMCA’s proposed expansion of the fossil fuel empire is an environmental disaster on its own. But, NAFTA 2 goes further by reducing environmental protections that are included in the last four US trade deals. It does this by “failing to reinforce a standard set of seven Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA)” that protect wetland ecosystems, arctic ecosystems, and endangered species and prevent overfishing, unnecessary marine pollution, and so much more. An environmental coalition shows: “the deal includes standard enforcement language for only one of the seven MEAs, while using weak language for two and failing to even mention four of these essential environmental agreements.”

Corporate trade deals like USMCA are modern colonialism. They uphold and refine the extractive economy that goes hand in hand with the militarization of indigenous, and black and brown communities. The Zapatistas who rose in resistance to NAFTA in 1994 said that NAFTA would be a death sentence for indigenous communities in the Americas. This has been true for so many. Trump’s new NAFTA has no objectives that seek to guarantee and enforce the rights of indigenous peoples nor does it seek reparations or decolonization which need to be prioritized in any new trade deal.

Corporate trade destroys food and seed sovereignty. NAFTA favored agro-chemical corporations at the expense of small and indigenous farmers, local food systems, and consumers. In the US, 250,000 small and medium scale family farms went out of business. In Mexico, over two million farmers left agriculture because of NAFTA, mostly because agricultural export dumping, or flooding Mexican markets with corn, wheat, and rice from the US at below the cost of production. Small farmers simply could not compete. The USMCA ensures the continuation of this practice, one of the main causes of Mexican migration and refugees to the US.

Mexican President, Manuel Lopez Obrador, along with more than 100 Mexican farmers’ organizations have come out with a plan to rebuild Mexico’s decimated food system. One of the main goals of the plan is self-sufficiency in corn, wheat, rice and beans by 2024. It supports a transition toward agro-ecology while barring GMO crops. This could be considered trade distortion under USMCA’s Agriculture chapter, endangering the whole plan for food sovereignty in Mexico. It’s also “hard to see,” writes the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), “how Mexico can achieve self-sufficiency in basic grains without limits on…dumping.”

NAFTA 2 also threatens seed sovereignty in Mexico. The IATP shows that, like the TPP, USMCA requires all countries to ratify the 1991 version of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, which “prohibits farmers from saving and sharing seeds. Mexico ratified the 1978 version of that accord, which includes exceptions for small-scale farmers, but has declined to ratify the more stringent 1991 version.” With this requirement, small farmers in Mexico will lose control of their seed to Monsanto and Dow-DuPont.

On the consumer side, USMCA fails to require Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) and dolphin-safe labeling. It also makes GMO labeling more difficult. It would also make it more difficult to regulate and inspect foods, limiting inspections and allowing food that fails to meet US safety standards to be imported. Food and Water Watch writes, the “text encourages the United States to accept the food safety rules in Mexico as comparable to domestic protections and to accept imports from Mexico with less scrutiny than from other countries.

Corporate Deregulation

Deregulation is characteristic of all “free trade” deals–they are free for transnational corporations, but no one else. USMCA not only maintains some of the worst aspects of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) court system, but adds new deregulatory provisions that empower corporations to delay, weaken, and even repeal environmental, food, health, labor, and human rights protections.

Since NAFTA, ISDS has been used by corporations to challenge government regulations that may curb their profits. In ISDS court rulings, tax-payers have paid billions of dollars–that should be going towards essential public services–to corporations for toxics bans, land-use rules, regulatory permits, water and timber policies and more. For instance, Ecuador was forced to pay $1.4 billion to Occidental Petroleum “after the government terminated an oil concession due to the U.S. oil corporation’s breach of the contract and Ecuadorian law.”

People around the world are fighting to end ISDS. And, while there are gains in the new NAFTA–most importantly that ISDS would be eliminated between Canada and the United States–there are also setbacks. Environmental groups point out that the USMCA maintains the “full suite of overreaching substantive corporate rights to some of the biggest ISDS offenders: oil and gas corporations.”

Any oil and gas company that has, or may at some point have, government contracts for offshore drilling, fracking, oil and gas pipelines, refineries, or other polluting activities in Mexico will be able to use ISDS courts to challenge public interest and environmental policies. Repeat ISDS users like Chevron and ExxonMobil “would be allowed to challenge environmental protections in Mexico by relying on the same broad corporate rights that they have used to successfully challenge public interest policies from Ecuador to Canada.” The ISDS exception also applies to companies with government contracts in power generation, infrastructure, transportation, and telecommunications.

In addition to ISDS, corporations successfully lobbied for a new way to challenge regulations in the Good Regulatory Practices (GRP) chapter of the new NAFTA. The GRP chapter “allows corporations to challenge regulations before they are finalized and to ask that existing regulations be repealed.” According to IATP, many corporations “are recognizing that preventing a regulation in the first place, rather than waiting to challenge it after the fact, is far more effective in reducing their costs. Now that ISDS has become widely reviled in the public sphere, even in government, this strategy is becoming a necessity.”

The GRP chapter would have far-reaching consequences for environmental, food, health, labor, and human rights protections. According to IATP, “it applies broadly across all of government and affects virtually all regulations, even if not trade-related.” Whereas NAFTA had two paragraphs on GRP, USMCA has 13 pages that offer all sorts of corporate favors.

The GRP chapter limits the ‘science’ that regulators can use to create new protections; fosters a regulatory race-to-the-bottom through provisions on regulatory cooperation; and, for the first time, is enforceable through trade sanctions between nations–so much for Trump’s protectionism! Any trade agreement that includes such a chapter is a major threat to Democracy and must be stopped.|

Take Action

NAFTA spurred a failed wave of corporate globalization around the world. Now it’s time for a new model, not Trump’s NAFTA 2. The USMCA must be defeated and replaced with a North American agreement that puts people and planet ahead of corporate profit. If you are involved with an activist or community group of any kind you can generate discussion and action around this. Call and email your representative now!

From Popular Resistance.

After meeting with Lighthizer, New Dems eye path forward on USMCA

Several members of the New Democrat Coalition said on Tuesday that while significant concerns about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement remain, they hope to ensure the deal is passed before an August recess.


Following a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Reps. Suzan DelBene (WA), Ron Kind (WI), Lizzie Fletcher (TX) and Derek Kilmer (WA) told reporters the goal was to ensure the deal’s passage by August. Kilmer serves as the pro-trade coalition’s chair and DelBene is a vice-chair. Kind and Fletcher are co-chairs of the group’s trade task force.

“The clock is ticking,” Kind said after the meeting. “We may be in another border wall fight this fall, which can just paralyze this place given the president’s budget that he just submitted this week and then we are slipping to 2020.”

If the deal is to be passed before Capitol Hill retreats in August, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “is going to have to make a determination on the schedule around here if she sees an opportunity,” Kind told Inside U.S. Trade.

On Wednesday, Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic caucus are slated to be briefed on USMCA by the trade representative. Kind pointed to concerns over enforcement issues, in addition to the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s call for a slew of changes to the deal before they can support it. The liberal group’s leaders on Tuesday said “We are taking a position as the Progressive Caucus against the current proposal,” according to Politico.

“But obviously we already have a divided caucus, with the progressives coming out this afternoon opposing USMCA as a group, so that’s a big chunk right there,” Kind said. “And that’s one of the things we were emphasizing with Ambassador Lighthizer — the clock has already started running on this. Courses of opposition are mobilizing already, so if he thinks he’s got some time to dither, that window is going to close pretty quickly.”

DelBene urged the administration to introduce implementing legislation and a statement of administrative action to Congress soon as a way to provide “a lot more specifics” and inform members more broadly. “So, any drafts of those that they put forward I think would help provide some answers that people have,” she told reporters. Kind told Inside U.S. Trade the USTR was hoping to ease lawmakers’ concerns through that implementing legislation rather than re-opening talks, which has been proposed by some Democratic senators.

“I think their hope is that they can address the concerns that members are bringing to them through the implementing language as opposed to having to open the entire agreement up. That is kind of what he was intimating [today],” Kind added. The implementing legislation and a statement of administrative action have long been seen as likely vehicles to address controversial issues such as Section 232 tariffs as well as language on de minimis thresholds. The tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum are considered major hurdles to USMCA’s passage. One source suggested the administration could include a line in the implementing legislation akin to saying “all tariffs will be removed once the third party ratifies the deal,” and then include clarifying Section 232 language in the statement of administrative action.

But Kind said the removal of Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum was essential to advancing the deal before the implementing legislation drops. He said the USTR has meetings with Canada and Mexico this week to discuss the issue. Asked if Lighthizer clarified any concerns about USMCA dispute settlement provisions, Kind said the USTR walked the group through “what the dispute resolution would look like and he said [Section] 301 is the ‘last resort’ when all other opportunities are exhausted.”

The USTR told senators last month that Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 could be used as a unilateral tool to enforce certain parts of the deal with Canada and Mexico. But Kind again poured cold water on the idea, contending “the question is how quickly does the president exhaust all other options before going to [Section] 301? I mean he could just bypass everything and go it alone, which he has shown a propensity to do now over and over again.”

Kilmer and DelBene said the USTR side-stepped direct Section 232 questions, acknowledging only that the tariffs were a problem without providing details on any potential solution. “He also sort of walked around that issue as well,” Kilmer told reporters. Kilmer later told Inside U.S. Trade that there is clearly a “recognition of the problem … but not necessarily a recognition of how this gets resolved.”

“Bob might be an expert in steel but we are an expert in the economic damage that’s happening every single day in our respective districts because of the retaliation of this trade war, which appears to have no end in sight,” Kind said of Lighthizer, who for years represented the steel industry as a private attorney. “And that has been clearly communicated to him, so I think they realize they’ve got to find a place to resolve 232 in order to move forward.” Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), another member of the New Democrat Coalition, said a deal passed before the August recess was “obviously” the hope for supporters. “I just sometimes feel like the administration is overconfident in recognizing how difficult trade deals are,” he told Inside U.S. Trade. “I think they are overly optimistic.” Asked if Lighthizer provided any specifics on how USTR planned to address Democratic concerns related to enforcement, Bera replied: “No, other than they recognize that’s an area where they’ve got to do a little bit more.”

And on Section 232, Bera said “We made sure [Lighthizer] understood that we still have some real concerns here.” Kilmer told Inside U.S. Trade that while the “crystal ball is still a little bit fuzzy,” it’s clear the USTR is trying to engage lawmakers “more out of an acknowledgment that for something to move in this regard it actually has to pass through Congress.”

In addition to this week’s sessions, a group of 23 first-term Democrats has requested a meeting with Lighthizer to address USMCA concerns before the administration submits implementing legislation to Congress. “We were not in Congress when President Trump signed the revised NAFTA,” the group said in a March 12 letter. “As such, we were not consulted in the negotiating of the agreement and therefore, our votes should not be taken for granted.”

The lawmakers wrote that they expect “continuous and meaningful consultations with you and the Administration to shape President Trump’s trade agenda this Congress” and added that they looked forward to meeting with the USTR to “walk through the various provisions of the agreement and provide our feedback.”

DelBene said Lighthizer “did agree to have a meeting with freshmen, so hopefully that happens soon.” — Isabelle Hoagland (

Mexico says it won’t ratify new NAFTA deal unless U.S. lifts tariffs

Mexico’s Congress will be asked to approve a major labour-reform bill this spring as a necessary step to ratifying the new North American free-trade pact later this autumn, say Mexican officials.

But unless the Trump administration lifts the punishing tariffs it has imposed on Mexican steel and aluminum imports — duties it also imposed on Canada — Mexico is prepared to keep the status quo with the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

The push to improve workers’ rights in Mexico was a key priority for Canada and the United States during the rocky NAFTA renegotiation because they wanted to level the playing field between their workers and lower-paid Mexican workers, especially in the auto sector.

When Mexico and the U.S. reached their surprise bilateral agreement last August, forcing the Trudeau government to quickly forge a deal with the Trump administration, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland lauded Mexico for making labour concessions.

But a senior trade official in the new government of socialist reformer Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador suggested in an interview it wasn’t a huge sacrifice because elevating the status of country’s workers was a key plank in the platform that brought their Morena party to power.

Lopez Obrador made it clear in his election campaign that he wanted to strengthen the rights of workers and labour unions, which made a good fit with Canada’s bargaining position, Luz Maria de la Mora, Mexico’s deputy trade minister, said in an interview.

“With the agreement or without the agreement, this is something central to President Lopez Obrador — strengthening workers’ rights and strengthening trade deals in Mexico,” said de la Mora.

She said the new government wants a package of labour reform ratified in Mexico’s Congress before its April 30 adjournment “so we can reflect the commitments that we’ve made under the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement in domestic legislation.”

That means the new agreement will be sent to the Mexican Congress for ratification after reconvenes in Sept. 1, she said.

But that won’t happen unless the United States lifts its so-called section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum exports, said de la Mora.

U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum from Mexico and Canada, using the controversial national-security clause in U.S. trade law — “Section 232,” as it’s called in shorthand — that both countries say was illegal.

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau recently told Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, during a public panel in Washington that the tariffs are “a serious impediment to us moving forward on what is the best trade deal in the world.”

On Nov. 30, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump and former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto, who was on his last day in office, signed the new trade agreement. It now faces ratification by the legislatures of all three countries.

Trudeau spoke to Trump on Thursday and “raised the issue of steel and aluminum tariffs and expressed the need for the removal of tariffs,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

If the tariffs aren’t lifted, de la Mora suggested Mexico is fine with the current version of NAFTA that remains in force.

“We hope to have this new agreement in place. But in the absence of the new agreement, we know that NAFTA is good enough,” she said.

Mexico would prefer the updated agreement “for the relations we have with the U.S. and Canada but we are OK with the current NAFTA.”

Mexican senators, who were in Ottawa the past week to conference with their Canadian parliamentary counterparts, echoed de la Mora’s assessment.

“We are going to approve it, but right now our government is trying to deal with this (the tariffs),” Sen. Antares Guadalupe said in an interview.

“We’re not in a rush. Trade right now, it’s working,” she added. “We have many things to do but we want to take it slowly because it is very important to have it in a very good way for Mexico.”

Sen. Hector Vasconcelos, the head of the Mexican Senate’s foreign-affairs committee, said the ratification of the new agreement is also subject to the domestic political situations in all three countries. That includes the ongoing turmoil in the Trump administration and Canada’s legislative clock, which will see the House of Commons adjourn in June until after the October federal election.

Asked what happens if the new agreement is not ratified, Vasconcelos laughed.

“Life goes on, I assure you,” he said, referring to the current NAFTA. “It’s good enough and we will try to get it better. That’s what we are going to do. We have to discuss a lot in Mexico.”

From CTV News