Fix NAFTA? How, Precisely?

By August 12, 2007Trade

David Broder examines the state of anti-trade posturing and finds it lacking. In addition to the congressional rhetoric Broder’s column, “The Free-Trade Divide,” highlights the comments made by Democratic candidates at last week’s AFL-CIO panderfest in Chicago. We’ll pick out Senator Biden here because of an assumption he makes, but all the candidates offered similar unsatisfactory arguments against trade. Biden:

Hey, look, a president’s job is to create jobs, not to export jobs, and the idea that we are not willing to take the prime minister of Canada and the president of Mexico to the mat to make this agreement work is just a lack of presidential leadership.

A president’s job is to create jobs? Oh.

Here’s an NAM fact sheet from two years ago, “The Truth About NAFTA: NAFTA Didn’t Cause the Trade Deficit or the Big Manufacturing Job Loss.” And when politicians bemoan the NAFTA trade deficit, notice how they omit the overriding factor — energy imports from Canada. Funny how so many of the same officials who complain about NAFTA oppose the development of U.S. domestic energy sources.

Broder concludes:

All of that rhetoric would lead an incautious Democratic voter to expect this Democratic Congress to put NAFTA back on the legislative agenda. But don’t hold your breath.

[Rep. Sander] Levin told me that Peru has agreed to change its laws to guarantee “core labor standards.”

As for any changes to NAFTA, Levin says, “That won’t happen as long as Bush is president.” He is right. And one has to question how seriously to take any of these comments from the Democratic hopefuls. As Bush reminded reporters, NAFTA was negotiated by his father, the first President Bush, but was pushed through a Democratic Congress in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. “NAFTA has made a difference in our hemisphere — a positive difference. . . . NAFTA has worked,” the president said. “What are they suggesting we fix?”

P.S. Existing venues for addressing disputes are being used. From the USTR, an August 7 news release:

WASHINGTON – United States Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab announced today that the United States will initiate arbitration proceedings under the 2006 Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA), and she is working with the United States Department of Commerce to take additional measures to monitor Canadian compliance with the SLA.

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