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2018 Year in Review: Campaigning to Replace NAFTA

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) reshaped the North American economy under corporate-rigged terms that harm workers, consumers and the environment in all three NAFTA nations. The NAFTA renegotiation offers a chance to stop some of NAFTA’s serious, ongoing damage of job outsourcing, downward pressure on wages and attacks on environmental and health policies. That’s why Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch spent 2018 fighting for a NAFTA replacement deal worth supporting.

After more than a year of renegotiations, the NAFTA 2.0 text signed on Nov. 30 contained improvements for which progressives have long campaigned but also damaging terms that we oppose.

The most important gain is a significant rollback of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system. ISDS incentivizes job outsourcing and empowers corporations to attack domestic policies that protect public health and the environment before tribunals of three corporate lawyers who can order unlimited compensation to be paid to the corporations by taxpayers. Other improvements include the addition of wage standards, the removal of measures that forced natural resource exports and the restoration of truck safety standards.

However, more improvements are needed. While the new text has improved labor standards, these are not subject to swift and certain enforcement and thus won’t stop job outsourcing or raise wages. Environmental standards also need improvement.

The NAFTA 2.0 text has new protections for pharmaceutical corporations that would lock in policies that make our medicine prices outrageously high. These must be eliminated.

The deal will be considered by Congress likely by summer 2019. It must obtain majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to be enacted. That means the new Democratic House majority has leverage to demand progressive changes. This has happened before. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama had to negotiate improvements to trade deals they already had signed to get them through Congress.

But because of the midterm elections, only a deal that can win significant Democratic support will get through Congress. That creates an opportunity that Public Citizen will seize. In 2019, Public Citizen will work with its allies to win the necessary improvements. If we secure these changes, we may finally have a replacement worth supporting. If not, we will lead the opposition charge.

In 2018, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch:

  • Public Citizen issued detailed analyses of the NAFTA 2.0 text relative to the essential changes we demanded to stop NAFTA’s ongoing damage.
  • Organized scores of other organizations to launch two national online campaigns that generated millions of emails, calls and petitions to Congress demanding that NAFTA renegotiations remove the agreement’s special corporate rights (ISDS) and add strong labor and environmental standards subject to swift and certain enforcement.
  • Spearheaded a letter signed by more than 300 Democratic and Republican state legislators from all 50 states urging the end of ISDS in NAFTA.
  • Engaged intensively with members of Congress to make sure that NAFTA 2.0 includes needed improvements.
  • With the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, released a timely analysis of NAFTA’s disproportionate damage to U.S. Latinos and Mexican workers and whether the NAFTA 2.0 deal would stop it.
  • Worked with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Now This News and others on videos on the NAFTA renegotiations that reached millions of people.
  • Published an updated case list of corporate claims filed under the ISDS provisions of NAFTA and other U.S. trade deals. We continue to lead the global campaign for repeal of these special corporate rights, which we succeeded in getting largely removed from NAFTA.
  • Analyzed top administration officials’ personal financial entanglements with China and how the entanglements shaped trade policy.
  • Created accessible online resources for the public to track Chinese investment in the United States, NAFTA job loss and other outcomes by state, trends in the U.S. trade deficit and the record of 25 years of NAFTA outcomes.