Watchdog groups are sounding the alarm over the Trump administration's formal announcement to Congress on Thursday that he will relaunch negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer issued the official notification under a law that allows the president to fast-track legislation through Congress. Lighthizer will now spend the next 90 days consulting with lawmakers about the stance the U.S. should take in the talks, which could come as soon as August 16, Bloomberg reports.
President Donald Trump's stances against NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and vows to "drain the swamp" of corporate interests were some of the few positions that garnered him some bipartisan support during the campaign—but, like many of his pledges, those appeared to fall through after he took office, opponents said.
Trump "built his campaign by demonizing [NAFTA], which he called 'the worst deal ever,' and by making assurances that he could rework trade deals to protect the American people," said Bill Waren, senior trade analyst for the environmental group Friends of the Earth. "Now he plans to give another handout to corporations through renegotiating NAFTA."
Trump's plan for the maligned, decades-old deal—leaked in March—shows a NAFTA that "will encourage corporations to pollute our air and water, poison our food, and accelerate climate change," Waren said. The draft proposal would keep some of the trade deal's most controversial provisions, including an arbitration panel that lets investors sue governments for supposed loss of profit imposed by environmental and human rights safeguards.
Public Citizen likewise tweeted, "His leaked plan looks like a wish list for the very CEOs who've visited him at the #WhiteHouse."
From environmental advocacy to corporate accountability, group after group lined up to condemn the announcement.
"If corporate elites are allowed to dictate how NAFTA is renegotiated, the agreement could become more damaging for working families and the environment in the three countries," said Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch director Lori Wallach, noting that "Trump's conflicts of interest and self-dealing opportunities with NAFTA renegotiation are not hypothetical; the sprawling Trump business empire has 14 Canadian and two Mexican investments."
Food & Water Watch (FWW) executive director Wenonah Hauter said it "presents more perils than promise."
"The 25-year old corporate free trade pact has cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, given foreign corporations like TransCanada broad new powers to challenge U.S. environmental protections, and exposed consumers to risky imported foods," Hauter said. "Trump campaigned against the free trade deals like NAFTA that have shuttered factories and exacerbated economic inequality and he withdrew from the even more corporate-friendly [TPP] after he took office. But the administration's actions have not lived up to its rhetoric on U.S. trade policy and now the White House is signaling that NAFTA needs only minor tweaks instead of a major rewrite."