"Keep your eye on the ball" is a core principle not only for baseball players but also for us commoners trying to assess exactly what the spinmeisters of global trade are hurling at us. Their deals are and always have been large-scale hustles, filled with hypocrisy, deceit and greed. Promoted as fair and good for all, they're invariably rigged with profiteering schemes that lock into law advantages for corporations over the common good of consumers, the environment, labor, independent businesses, governments and all other democratic forces.
Further, they are works of deliberate deception, drafted in strict secrecy and couched in page after page of arcane legalese that intentionally obscures the corporate thievery so We the People don't know that we've been had until it's too late. They hide the ball to keep you, me and even Congress from seeing specifically who'll profit and who'll pay. So, heads up, for here comes another sucker pitch.
"A historic transaction," Trump grandiloquently hailed his Afta-NAFTA handiwork in an April tweet, lauding the 1,809-page United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement as "the most important trade deal we've ever made by far." Backed by a coalition of some 200 corporate and Wall Street powerhouses, Trump demanded that Congress quickly ratify the USMCA "so we can bring back our manufacturing jobs in even greater numbers, expanding American agriculture, protecting intellectual property." "Once again," swooned Fox personality Laura Ingraham, "Trump delivers."
Yes, but what ... and for whom?
Big Pharma: If the USMCA passes as currently drafted, it would require the governments of the U.S., Mexico and Canada to guarantee — and even extend — Big Pharma's monopoly price-setting power. Specifically, the deal gives drugmakers 10 years of exclusive marketing for critical "biologic" meds that millions of people need — in addition to the 20-year monopoly that U.S. patent laws already grant. Trump's deal would prevent generic competitors from offering cheaper versions for an extra decade while also shackling Canadians and Mexicans to the pricing racket that Pharma already runs in the U.S.
Big Oil: Although the USMCA largely eliminates the anti-democratic and unjust system of dispute-deciding corporate-run "courts," seven oil behemoths (including Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron) would retain their NAFTA-granted access to these odious tribunals. One particular concern is that the giants will use these kangaroo courts to block Mexican efforts to strengthen environment and health protections and address the climate crisis.
Big Bosses: The USMCA would finally outlaw Mexico's notorious company-run "unions" that allow workers no control or even participation. While the deal prohibits these fraudulent labor units, it provides no way to monitor, much less enforce, corporate compliance.
Big Food: The original NAFTA included a literal gag rule. It allowed cheaply produced Mexican beef and other meat to be sold in the U.S. — even if it didn't meet our food safety standards. Trump's "fantastic" redo of NAFTA keeps this rule prohibiting our supposedly sovereign government from setting our own health standards for meat sold to our consumers.
Congress must obviously kill this thing, right?
Hmmm ... not so fast. Even with all the uglies and absurdities in the USMCA, progressive strategists see enough pretties and potential for fixes that it could become one of the only positives to emerge from Trump Hell. As Lori Wallach, head of Public Citizen's savvy band of trade jujitsu artists puts it, "Improbably, things are going quite well." Prettiest of all is the USMCA's whacking down of NAFTA's most repugnant component: "investor-state dispute settlement" tribunals. These autocratic, plutocratic, corporate-controlled "courts" empower multinational corporations to obtain unlimited taxpayer dollars through specious lawsuits claiming that their special NAFTA privileges are restricted by the people's democratically enacted laws — laws intended to protect consumers, workers, the environment and other social/economic interests. The investor-state dispute settlement provision is an anti-democratic abomination, and gutting it would truly be a huge step forward — one worth taking while we can.
Further, if we can strengthen the USMCA's labor and environmental standards — and make them strictly enforceable — they might counter corporate America's race-to-the-bottom outsourcing that converts middle-class U.S. jobs into Mexican sweatshop servitude. And of course, the absurd goodies for Big Pharma must be removed. But the fight, then, is not simply to reject the USMCA but instead to expose its flaws, democratize it and force improvements. That's not easy, but it's doable.
Yes, trade fights can be complex and tedious, but pay attention to this one. The USMCA is a momentous battle that's more about people's democratic power than trade. It unites folks across the left-right political spectrum, it's worth the fight, and it's winnable — if we team up to wrangle our Congress critters to oppose Trump's corporatized version and add essential democratizing improvements. Let's do it!
Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.
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