Lawmakers, union allies campaign against secret ‘trade court’ in ‘new NAFTA’

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Washington (PAI) – Progressive House Democrats and their union allies have stepped up their campaign against retaining a secret “trade court” in any “new NAFTA.”

At an outdoor press conference, they delivered petitions, including those collected by the AFL-CIO and the Communications Workers, with thousands of signatures on them to fellow politicians.

And they may be getting somewhere. A top trade specialist who was privy to nations’ stands in talks for the now-dead Trans-Pacific Partnership, said in an informal conversation afterwards the Trump administration’s top bargainer, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, is dead set against the current “trade court,” called the Investor-State Dispute System (ISDS).

“He views it as a violation of U.S. sovereignty,” she added. The fallback position, she said, is that if there is to be an ISDS, damages firms could get from such a secret court would be limited to actual past losses, not losses of expected future profits.

The fallback would also mandate the three nations – Canada, the U.S. and Mexico – could choose to opt-in to letting the secret court rule. “Opt-out” would be the default position.

The Democrats marshaled their forces as the NAFTA talks resumed across the Potomac River in the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, and as news reports indicated the talks could break down over the GOP administration’s demands for higher U.S. domestic content in cars, among other issues. That stand alarmed big business, including the Chamber of Commerce.

WORKERS’ RIGHTS

On workers’ rights, the Democrats and unions have the support of the Canadian government, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau devoted most of his Oct. 11 morning meeting with GOP President Donald Trump to NAFTA.

Trudeau’s government, agreeing with Unifor, Canada’s largest union, has put the issue of worker rights in the U.S. – specifically repeal of so-called “right-to-work” laws – on the NAFTA bargaining table. Mexico is holding out against both the U.S. and Canada on worker rights.

DEMANDING AN END TO RULES THAT LET BUSINESSES OUTSOURCE JOBS

“We’re here to announce the delivery of petitions with 400,000 signatures from Americans demanding any trade agreement eliminate rules that let businesses outsource jobs,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a veteran lawmaker known for her ability to marshal colleagues’ votes.

“And the ISDS rules empower secret panels of three corporate lawyers” sitting as the judges in that trade court, “who can demand unlimited sums of American taxpayer dollars,” when firms are allegedly injured by trade restrictions.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) called the secret trade panels “kangaroo courts.”

“We’re here to support people before corporations – workers, and jobs in the U.S. that pay a living wage,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH). In just the first year after NAFTA took effect in 1994, GM closed a plant in her northern Ohio district, costing 14,000 jobs, by moving the work to Mexico.

“If the current occupant of the White House wants to show that ‘I’ll renegotiate NAFTA,’ is more than a campaign slogan, then there has to be no ISDS,” declared Rep. Keith Ellison, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL-MN).

CARS AND PARTS MAY BE BIG STUMBLING BLOCK

The Voice of America reported cars and parts may be the big NAFTA stumbling block.

NAFTA requires at least 62 percent of a car’s parts to be made in North America before the car can avoid import tariffs and taxes. Trump wants it to be 85 percent, including 50 percent from the U.S.

The Chamber of Commerce called that a “poison pill” in the NAFTA talks.

That didn’t dismay Michigan Democratic Reps. Debbie Dingell and Dan Kildee, both with car and part plants in their districts, though not as many as once loomed there.

“Our factories are empty,” Dingell said. “We need to talk about labor costs and how wages are much cheaper in Mexico.”

Added Kildee, “We used to have 79,000 jobs in Flint,” his hometown, making auto parts. “Now we have just over 10,000” due to migration of parts plants to Mexico.

Raising Mexican wages is one U.S. negotiating objective, a U.S. Trade Rep’s fact sheet says, along with eliminating the ISDS.

PUT AMERICAN WORKERS FIRST

Despite Labor’s campaign on trade pacts’ negative impact in general and the ISDS, Ellison said most people don’t know about it.

“It undermines the voters who elect representatives to make laws which affect them,” Kildee said. “It undermines democracy and sovereignty. We’ve got to make people know what the ISDS is.”

And it’s not just ISDS, DeLauro concluded. “We have an historic opportunity” in the current “new NAFTA” talks “to change the future of American trade by putting American workers first,” she said.

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