Don’t forget about NAFTA

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By now it’s well understood that Trump will do anything to help corporations make money. The current effort to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) presents a perfect opportunity to do just that. Despite calls for transparency and public input, NAFTA talks are being conducted in secret with invited corporate “advisers” in attendance. The public is excluded. That is how we got this job-killing agreement in the first place.

The administration’s official objectives for NAFTA are largely copied from Obama’s fast track authority playbook, which was designed to advance corporate interests and ramrod a larger more noxious trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), down our throats. The Trump plan is to load on a passel of new corporate advantages, perks and protections that were originally intended for the defeated TPP.

Over 100 corporate organizations have chimed in, insisting that the most corporate-friendly features of NAFTA be retained, particularly the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) arbitration process. ISDS makes it much easier to outsource American jobs by empowering foreign corporations to sue countries in ad-hoc corporate “tribunals,” when a nation’s laws, regulations or court rulings reduce corporate profits, including “future expected profits.” Countries that lose such suits must either repeal the laws or pay unlimited compensation to the victorious corporations. There is no right of appeal. The tribunals can overrule domestic courts and even national constitutions. The threat of suits has a chilling effect on governments’ ability to serve and protect their citizens.

Not only do NAFTA tribunals subvert democratic government, they enable corporations to avoid labor, public health and environmental accountability. The tribunals facilitate easy access to vulnerable and poorly protected workers in Mexico, where wages are one-sixth of those in the U.S. Sidebars belatedly written into NAFTA, supposedly protecting workers and the environment, have never been enforced. Instead, hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid out by governments that lose suits trying to provide those very same protections.

The tribunal system is the central problem with NAFTA, but certainly not the only one. U.S. Drug patent laws are notorious for creating longterm drug monopolies that charge outrageous prices, often to the detriment of millions here and around the world. Trump wants NAFTA to enforce harsh patent provisions that could eventually eliminate affordable medicines, including generic drugs. The tribunals will be key to making this happen.

Ultimately, NAFTA will come before Congress for an up-or-down vote. Our representatives will be the only ones who can stop a bad agreement. There are fairer, more democratic methods to facilitate international trade. Our representatives should support those.

We need to hear what Congressman Polis thinks a good trade deal looks like. His vote could be critical to what emerges in the end. We need to hear what Mr. Polis thinks about the tribunals. Give Mr. Polis a call at 303-484-9596 or 970-226-1239 and ask where he stands on NAFTA, the tribunals and drug patents. We need to know.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.