President Trump seemed to make good on the big promises of candidate Trump this week with declarations of sweeping executive actions against two massive trade agreements. Reflecting his nationalist campaign platform, he ordered withdrawal from pending final negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, linking a dozen Pacific Rim nations, and announced plans to renegotiate NAFTA, the Clinton-era pact that governs trade with Mexico and Canada.
Promises kept? Trump’s inaugural vow to cure “American carnage” by unraveling trade pacts, along with implementing other “America first” measures, evokes deep skepticism from “free trade’s” progressive critics. The left has battled neoliberal trade treaties since the start of the World Trade Organization, independent of Trump’s crusade: The deals are historically associated with systemic patterns of job hemorrhaging, economic destabilization, and outsized multinational profits. And prior to the election, there was long-standing bipartisan opposition to the TPP, which would have expanded NAFTA’s misery, with a few more regulatory bullet points, across 40 percent of the global economy.
But on Trump’s forthcoming reforms, Arthur Stamoulis of the grassroots coalition Citizens Trade Campaign says, “There’s good reason for skepticism that he’s going to prioritize working families’ voices and workers’ advocates, let alone environmental advocates, safety advocates and others over the corporate voices in his own cabinet and on K-street.” In fact, Trump’s trade agenda might just provide a replacement of the much-maligned deals that leave workers less secure and corporations more empowered.
His erratic trade agenda so far revolves around pro-corporate tax cuts and destroying perhaps three-quarters of government regulations. In short, a Trumpian post-NAFTA era could undermine those same protections that US workers associate with their pre-NAFTA jobs.
And are there any jobs to “bring back,” as Trump claims? If jobs do reappear, they’ll probably resemble more closely jobs imported from Global South sweatshops, rather than jobs exported in the 1990s that have now vanished worldwide, under waves of corporate expansion and structural economic shifts. Trump’s threats to punish certain corporations (demonstrated with well-publicized selections of factory workers) seem driven by publicity and vendettas, not the public interest. His recent threat of levying punitive taxes against offshoring companies was publicly dismissed as political chatter by his commerce-secretary pick, coal-baron Wilbur Ross, as Dave Dayen reports. Trump reportedly wants to match planned tariff hikes with massive tax breaks for high incomes, essentially forcing taxpayers to subsidize bosses’ investments that, will somehow revive manufacturing jobs, if Trump’s wild promises can be believed.