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President Donald Trump's plans for what he once called the "worst trade deal" are far from sweeping. (Photo: Michael Vadon/flickr/cc)

To Those Who Trusted Him on Trade, Trump Prepares 'Punch in the Face'

Should the Trump administration's NAFTA plans come to fruition, it'll be "globalism by Goldman Sachs," according to one commentator

Deirdre Fulton

In yet another broken promise, President Donald Trump appears to be walking back his campaign rhetoric on the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA—preparing to deliver what one critic described as "a punch in the face" to those who trusted Trump to make the trade deal better for working people.

According to the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, a draft proposal being circulated in Congress by the U.S. trade representative's office "would keep some of NAFTA's most controversial provisions, including an arbitration panel that lets investors in the three nations circumvent local courts to resolve civil claims."

Such panels are regarded with suspicion by environmental, labor, public health, and democracy advocates, who say they put corporate welfare above the public interest. As Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica said Thursday, "These tribunals allow corporations to punish governments wishing to enforce sensible environmental and public interest regulations by imposing massive monetary damages."

With the leaked proposal, Pica said, "Trump and members of his administration are proving that they will always prioritize CEOs over the working men and women who have suffered from NAFTA's punishing trade policy."

Citing trade scholar Jeffrey Schott, the Wall Street Journal further reported that "a number of the proposed negotiating objectives echo provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP], a 12-nation trade pact among Pacific Rim countries. Mr. Trump campaigned heavily against the TPP. The president pulled the U.S. from the deal on his first working day in office."

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, agreed in her analysis on Thursday: "For those who trusted Trump's pledge to make NAFTA 'much better' for working people, it's a punch in the face because the proposal describes TPP or any other same-old, same-old trade deal."

She continued:

If this is Trump's plan for renegotiating NAFTA—expanding the investor protections that promote job offshoring plus maintaining the ban on Buy American and the foreign tribunals that can attack U.S. laws—he will have broken his campaign promises to make NAFTA better for working Americans and will have a deal that cannot get a majority in Congress.

This is the sort of corporations-first, not-better-for-working-Americans agenda that results from Trump's decision to keep the same closed-door process and the 500 corporate advisers that got us into the original NAFTA and TPP debacles. Already, the corporate trade advisers have been consulted on the NAFTA agenda in a meeting two weeks ago, while the few labor advisers included in the system were shut out. But for this leaked document, the public and Congress are being left in the dark about negotiating plans and goals.

"Mostly what I see here is the same corporate wish list and a set of international rules that work quite well for global corporations," added Celeste Drake, the AFL-CIO's trade policy specialist, in a comment to Politico.

In his press briefing on Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer downplayed the proposal, saying it is "not a statement of administration policy" and "not an accurate statement of where we are at this time."

But the Los Angeles Times noted that the draft may reflect lobbying on the part of Trump's pro-corporate advisors such as former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn, who now serves as director of the president's National Economic Council. "He and others have been seeking to temper the more protectionist policies articulated during the campaign," the LA Times wrote. 

Matt Stoller, fellow at the Open Markets Program at the New America think tank, added in a series of tweets:

On the 2016 campaign trail, Trump called for killing NAFTA altogether, winning him support in Rust Belt states that have seen manufacturing jobs decimated over the last two decades.

As such, "there are a lot of questions for how this document gets translated out for the very workers that voted for him in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania," the AFL-CIO's Drake told Politico. "Of all the things people were voting for in November, it's clear they were not voting for more of the same."

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