America exports a lot, particularly to our border neighbors, Canada and Mexico, which alone purchase more manufactured goods from the United States than the next 10 foreign countries combined. They purchase almost as much from the United States as we buy from them, even though together they are less than one-sixth of the size of the U.S. economy.
But beyond the cars and corn, the tractors and trailers and the steel and soybeans, America has also been exporting its most basic Constitutional values. Through the original NAFTA Chapter 11, the United States sought to guarantee many of the same basic private property protections that we honor in our own country—due process, equal protection and compensation when a government seizes or “takes” private property. Those core provisions of the U.S. Constitution and U.S. law are part of the original NAFTA and have helped protect U.S. property in both countries when their governments have treated American businesses unfairly.
Since these provisions are not fully part of Canadian or Mexican law, NAFTA also established a neutral enforcement mechanism, known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), to ensure that individuals, nonprofits and businesses could all have the ability, as we have in the United States, to recover damages when those governments harm U.S. property. This enforcement mechanism is a neutral, internationally recognized arbitration found in more than 3,000 agreements worldwide and more than 50 other agreements signed by the United States.
Manufacturers, service providers, energy, technology and food and agricultural producers and their workers all have a stake in ensuring that these basic property protections and enforcement tools are not weakened in the upcoming NAFTA talks. To the contrary, the Trump administration has an important opportunity to improve the coverage of these rules so that all forms of U.S. property, including major resource and infrastructure contracts and intellectual property, are fully protected and that the ISDS enforcement tool is strengthened. For that reason, the NAM was joined by 112 groups representing millions of businesses across the manufacturing, services, technology, energy and food and agricultural sectors of the U.S. economy to urge the Trump administration to maintain and upgrade these basic provisions of the NAFTA.
Why does this matter for workers and businesses in the United States? Consider one early case already decided under NAFTA Chapter 11—Metalclad Corporation v. Canada. In 1993, California-based Metalclad Corporation invested more than $20 million to clean up and operate a waste facility that had more than 20,000 tons of hazardous waste contaminating local water supplies. Metalclad’s investment in Mexico included support from American workers and U.S.-produced materials.
Mexican federal and local officials supported Metalclad’s investment before the purchase and Metalclad received all the necessary Mexican federal authorizations and permits following government review and an environmental audit. Just before opening the facility, however, the local Mexican government blocked Metalclad from opening. Metalclad filed an ISDS case after which the local authority filed a so-called “ecological decree” to prevent the site from operating. An ISDS panel and later a Canadian court enforcing the award found that the Mexican government’s failure to allow Metalclad to operate the facility was in violation of one of the most basic property protections—that governments must compensate private property owners when they seize their property, as found in the Takings Clause in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. As a result of the ISDS claim, Metalclad was awarded compensation for a significant part of the investment that it had made.
There are many more instances of foreign governments that have wholly seized U.S. property and turned it over to local competitors or that have lured millions of dollars in infrastructure development, only to refuse to honor the contract to the detriment of U.S. businesses and their workers.
The Trump administration’s focus on ensuring fair treatment by foreign governments is a critical part of a robust U.S. trade agenda and maintaining and improving ISDS enforcement and the protection of U.S. property overseas is a critical tool in the toolbox. Businesses across the United States agree.
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