Today’s Outlook section of The Washington Post features an effective refutation of anti-NAFTA claims, “5 Myths About NAFTA,” written by Philippe Legrain, a journalism fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He raises one issue that tends to fall by the wayside in discussions about jobs and economic growth, the demands to add environmental and labor standards to the trade agreement. Myth No. 4:
Making NAFTA’s labor and environmental regulations stricter would benefit U.S. workers.
Probably not. Clinton wants to make the treaty’s labor and environmental provisions “far tougher and absolutely binding” and to require that all future trade agreements include similar language. The stated purpose is to raise labor and environmental standards around the world and to make it harder for companies to ship jobs to countries where workers have fewer protections than in the United States. But America’s trading partners would probably see the move as covert protectionism — since when have the Teamsters cared about Mexican wildlife? — and may retaliate. Meanwhile, consumers would probably resent the increased cost of their imports.
In any case, tough social clauses could backfire on the United States. Canada’s labor and environmental standards are generally higher than the United States’, and Canadians could claim that lax American standards amount to unfair competition. Given that Canada and Mexico have joined global efforts to curb climate change, they might wish to restrict American imports if the United States continues to hold back. And Mexican workers arguably have stronger labor rights than Americans: Unlike the United States, Mexico has ratified most of the International Labor Organization’s conventions on core labor standards, including those on freedom of association, collective bargaining and employment discrimination. If the United States bashes Mexican labor practices, what’s to stop Mexico from objecting to American imports produced in non-unionized factories?
Exactamente, compadre. We doubt this would be a very popular campaign plank: “We will reopen NAFTA to add tough new environmental and labor standards, including a ban on state right-to-work laws, because the Canadians and Mexicans demand it.”
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