WASHINGTON — Here we go again. President Trump appeared to renew his threat to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement if Democrats do not pass his new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. His threats may worry pro-trade Republicans, but they are music to the ears of anti-NAFTA Democrats, who would love nothing better than to get rid of NAFTA without giving Trump a trade victory.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has a better idea: Trump should tell Democrats that they will own NAFTA if they oppose his deal to replace it. The message should be “if you’re a Democrat, you essentially are voting for NAFTA if you vote no on USMCA,” Portman explained in an interview on the American Enterprise Institute’s new podcast. “You go back to the status quo, which is NAFTA.”
Besides, Portman says, there is no good reason for Democrats to oppose the USMCA because “it is such a much better agreement for Democrats than NAFTA. ... It’s everything that they’ve been asking for.” Take the automobile industry, for example. America has lost about 350,000 auto jobs since NAFTA was ratified in 1994, which is a third of all jobs in the industry. Meanwhile Mexico has gained hundreds of thousands of auto jobs during that time.
The USMCA will reverse that decline and bring auto jobs back to America. It increases the percentage of a vehicle that must be made in North America from 62.5 percent to 75 percent.
“Look at the details of this agreement,” Portman says. “There’s a minimum wage in Mexico for autoworkers. That’s not a Republican approach, but it’s very helpful for autoworkers.”
Portman points out that the U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that the USMCA would raise U.S. employment by 176,000 jobs.
As for labor standards, the USMCA guarantees secret-ballot votes by workers on collective bargaining agreements. It requires the three countries to “practice core labor standards as recognized by the International Labor Organization, including freedom of association and the right to strike.
Portman says Trump should tell Democrats, “Wait a minute, this is all the stuff you said you wanted.” If Democrats block the USMCA, so long as NAFTA remains in place Trump can hang ir around their necks in key battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio, which they need to win the presidency. He can tell working-class voters that Democrats voted to keep sending auto jobs to Mexico, and against the environment and the right to strike.
Democrats understand this, which is why Portman thinks the USMCA will pass. “I think it’s going to get done for a very simple reason, which is logic will ultimately prevail.” But logic will prevail only if Trump stops threatening to leave NAFTA.