Cicilline: Working families deserve trade deals that work for them

Last year, anxieties about the outsourcing of American jobs, slow growth of wages, and rapid increases in everyday expenses helped propel President Trump to the White House.

During the campaign, the President promised that he will solve these problems by renegotiating trade deals to make them “much better for American workers.”

Over the past few months, the President’s team has discussed the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with representatives from Canada and Mexico. Whether he succeeds or fails will mark a true test of his ability to deliver results for working families.

More than 20 years ago, NAFTA was negotiated behind closed doors. While working families and Congress were both denied a seat at the table, 500 corporate advisers called the shots and crafted a trade deal that served corporate interests.

- Advertisement -

The final version of NAFTA, as it exists today, is packed with language that encourages companies to ship their jobs overseas, puts corporate profits ahead of workers and the environment, and weakens food safety and public health laws that all of us count on.

Now, as renegotiations continue, corporate lobbyists are trying to add even worse provisions that the President campaigned against last year. The President has a choice between the interests of powerful corporations and the interests of working people who put their trust in him last year. This will mark the true test of where he stands.

More than most Americans, Rhode Islanders understand the devastating impact that corporate-friendly trade agreements like NAFTA. We’ve lost more than 40,000 manufacturing jobs – more than half of all manufacturing jobs in our state – since NAFTA went into effect.

It’s wrong.

Overall, more than 930,000 American jobs have been lost because NAFTA encourages corporations to ship jobs overseas. This hurts all Americans in the form of lower wages across the economy. And as prices continue to rise, more and more working families are struggling just to get by.

Two of every five manufacturing workers who were rehired in 2016 ended up making less in their new job. A quarter lost more than 20 percent in pay. That’s a $7,700 pay cut for someone earning $38,000.

23 years ago, NAFTA supporters promised the creation of 200,000 new jobs in each of NAFTA’s first five years. Instead, we’ve lost nearly a million jobs and opened a massive trade deficit with Mexico and Canada.

If the President is serious about making NAFTA work for working people, there’s a few things he should do.

First, he should open the process to public scrutiny. Let the American people see what’s being negotiated in their names.

But so far, renegotiations have taken place under the same secretive process that got us the corporate-friendly NAFTA more than 20 years ago. This needs to end.

The President also needs to stand firm for strong labor, wage and environmental standards. He needs to ensure imported food, goods and services meet our consumer standards. He needs to insist on eliminating NAFTA rules that undermine Buy American and Buy Local policies, as well as provisions that drive up the cost of prescription drugs by giving pharmaceutical companies a monopoly. And, finally, he needs to end incentives that encourage the outsourcing of American jobs.

A strong trade agreement that protects American jobs, raises wages, and cuts everyday costs can benefit Rhode Island. We’ll see if President Trump gets the jobs done and keeps his word to working people.

Rep. David N. Cicilline is a U.S. Congressman representing the first district of Rhode Island and the former mayor of Providence.