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Sanders to Trump: Open Up NAFTA Negotiations to ‘Working People’

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks after a caucus luncheon on Capitol Hill on Dec. 19, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who supports replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement, criticized the Trump administration for renegotiating NAFTA “behind closed doors.”

“Our demand? Open the doors. Let working people in. The renegotiation of NAFTA must be done in the open. It must include strong and enforceable labor and environmental standards,” Sanders said during the Citizens Trade Campaign’s recent “Replace NAFTA” rally on Capitol Hill.

“It must stop providing incentives for corporations to outsource American jobs to Mexico where workers there are paid in some cases $2 an hour. It needs to eliminate NAFTA rules that undermine our ‘buy American’ and ‘buy local’ laws. It must end the disastrous Investor-State Dispute Settlement System that undermines democracy,” he added.

Sanders called on President Trump to keep his campaign promise as his administration renegotiates NAFTA. Ministers from Mexico, Canada and the United States are scheduled to hold the sixth round of negotiations in late January.

“As you all know, when Donald Trump campaigned for president, he promised that he was going to stop corporations from shifting American jobs to Mexico and other low-wage countries – that he would renegotiate NAFTA and other trade deals to make them ‘much better for American workers,’” he said. “But as we speak, the renegotiation of NAFTA is being done behind closed doors with 500 corporate lobbyists and executives who are working overtime to protect their interests at the expense of the working people of this country.”

Sanders continued, “We are here today to send a very loud, a clear message to Donald Trump: For once in your life, keep your promises. We need to fundamentally rewrite NAFTA to stop good-paying jobs from being outsourced to Mexico, to stop corporations from polluting the environment, to end the race to the bottom and to improve the living conditions in the United States, Mexico and Canada.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) also called for more transparency in the NAFTA renegotiation process, noting lawmakers “fought hard with regard to TPP [The Trans-Pacific Partnership]” to make sure the public knew what was transpiring “and that’s the process we want to make sure we have in the rewriting of the NAFTA agreement.”

“We have a historic opportunity and that’s why we’re seizing it, to shape the future of American trade,” she told the rally. “We are for trade.”

DeLauro encouraged labor activists not to let politicians discredit them.

“We’re not going to let them paint us in the way, frankly, my Democratic colleagues who sat in the White House who said we were thugs, those of us who fought against NAFTA and the most recent Democratic administration told us we didn’t know what we were talking about with regard to ISDS [Investor-State Dispute Settlement],” she said.

“We do know what we are talking about. We know what we stand for and we want to make sure that future for trade really puts Americans first. We want to work with the administration. We want to rewrite NAFTA and ensure working people and their congressional representatives have a seat at the table – that’s what we came here to do,” she added.

Sanders said nobody needs a Ph.D. in economics to understand that the “unfettered” trade policies of the U.S. have been an “absolute disaster.” He quoted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from the 1990s saying that American firms would not move to Mexico just so they could pay lower wages.

“He was as right about that issue as he was right about the tax issue and the healthcare issue,” the Vermont senator said. “The Heritage Foundation told us ‘virtually all economists agree NAFTA will produce a net increase of U.S. jobs over the next decade.’ Well, they were wrong – dead wrong. Instead of creating one million American jobs, the Economic Policy Institute found that NAFTA destroyed more than 850,000 American jobs. NAFTA turned a $1.6 billion annual trade surplus with Mexico into a $64 billion trade deficit with that country.”

Sanders added that “there is a lot of work that has to be done, but I want everybody here to know that on this issue, the need for fair trade rather than unfettered free trade, the American people are with us.”

“Let’s go forward together,” he urged.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said bad trade deals like NAFTA and TPP are hurting local communities.

“It is time for Donald Trump to actually act like the populist he ran as, opposed to the elitist and the corporate CEO that he’s acting as right now,” she said. “If you make a promise to the American people, keep that promise. And he made a lot of promises to workers.”

Sanders said trade policy is a major factor in the decline of the middle class.

“Trade is not a sexy issue and it’s not something that attracts media attention, but it is an issue which impacts the lives of millions of people – working-class people – in communities all over this country,” the senator said.

“It devastates lives and it devastates cities and towns where once there was a vibrant community where people had decent-paying jobs. And if they had a union, they had good benefits then suddenly those jobs are gone, that community withers away, the young people leave. And it’s going on all over the country. Trade is not the only explanation for that, but trade is an important part of the decline of the middle class in America.”