Trump's reworked NAFTA sure looks nifty, says ...

This surprising show of bipartisanship is a leftover from yesterday but still worth noting today. In fact, it’s so worth noting that Donald Trump went out of his way to do so. Speaking a brief press avail, Trump heralded the “tremendous reviews” that his revamped trade agreement with Canada and Mexico has received, including from one leading Democrat who rarely has anything good to say about him:


Chuck Schumer did indeed hail Trump’s work in overhauling NAFTA. Noting that he’d opposed it since it first came to Congress, Schumer said that Trump “deserves praise” for significantly improving the trade agreement:

“As someone who voted against NAFTA and opposed it for many years, I knew it needed fixing. The president deserves praise for taking large steps to improve it,” Schumer said. “However, any final agreement must be judged on how it benefits and protects middle-class families and the working people in our country.”

“Two areas where I particularly want to see the details are dairy, where our dairy farmers are being taken advantage of by Canada, and real enforcement of labor provisions,” Schumer continued. “Labor provisions are good, but too often they are written into trade bills and never enforced.”

“If a final agreement is signed by all three countries, I also look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to write ‘implementing legislation’ to ensure the deal actually achieves these goals,” he added.

It’s probably been mostly forgotten, but much of the opposition to NAFTA came from Democrats, largely because of union opposition to it. It passed as legislation in Congress because the treaty itself was not popular enough to win two-thirds ratification in the Senate. The bill passed in November 1993, one of the last acts of the 40-year era of Democratic control of the House, which voted in favor by only a 234-200 margin … which was “unexpetedly large“:


A painfully divided House of Representatives approved the North American Free Trade Agreement by an unexpectedly large margin Wednesday night, ending a hard-fought battle that grew into a referendum on the fundamental changes sweeping the American economy. …

The strongest support in the House came from Republicans, who cast 132 votes for the trade plan and 43 against it. Among Democrats, 102 voted for the agreement and 156 opposed it. The one independent in Congress voted against the plan.

The Senate followed two days later with a 61-38 vote to approve the measure. Only ten of the nays came from Republicans, most of whom had backed Bill Clinton’s effort on free trade. It was an example of bipartisanship that may have already been on its way out at that time, and certainly became an endangered species shortly thereafter.

Not all of the reviews have been “tremendous,” however, although none have been seriously critical either. The worst that has been said is that it’s “overly optimistic,” as this Washington Post analysis argues:

All that earned the administration wary praise Monday from business groups, farmers, investors and even some Democratic lawmakers. But the president’s ebullience about “high-quality American jobs” ushering in “a new dawn for the American auto industry” stood in contrast to the relatively muted assessments of professional economists.

“This isn’t a revolutionary deal. It’s a modification of a deal already in place,” said Eric Winograd, senior U.S. economist at AllianceBernstein, an investment and research firm. “The total economic impact will be very small. I do not expect it to boost the U.S. economy.”


Not everyone was so grudging with praise, however:

Even some left-leaning economists gave the president credit for bettering the existing trade bargain.

“I’d argue this deal is an improvement, though enforcement will make or break that impression,” said Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. …

Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research in Michigan predicts “tens of thousands” of jobs could return out of 375,000 lost over the past two decades but says American consumers would see sticker prices increase by $470 to $2,200 per vehicle.

At the beginning of this process, I predicted that Canada and Mexico would make incremental concessions in order to give Trump what he needed to firm up the trading situation in North America. Trump seems to have won more than that, especially with access to dairy markets, where Canada had sharply protectionist policies in place. If it returns jobs to the US, especially in manufacturing, then it’s a win that delivers on Trump’s campaign promises. It also underscores his strategy of pushing opponents hard on deals — and it’s tough to argue with any concessions that his predecessors failed to achieve by playing nice.

It may not revamp trade in North America, but if it improves it for American workers, then it’s a win. And Democrats will be hard pressed to block it.


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