From the beginning of the year we have been warning that negotiators’ intents to reach a NAFTA deal by the end of the year would have been catastrophic. We argued that such a sped up deal gave no time for an inclusive and transparent process to take place and, furthermore, that a fast deal would mean that the text for NAFTA would largely borrow from TPP agreements.
Nonetheless, public pressure to eliminate the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a key component of TPP, from all sectors of the United States has made the full implementation of ISDS politically toxic. Grassroots organizations, consumer advocacy groups, labor unions, academics, and environmentalists alike have all insisted that there will be no consensus on NAFTA as long as the ISDS provision is alive.
This pressure has undoubtedly been instrumental in creating the conditions for the United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, to propose significant ISDS reform as an unconditional demand of a NAFTA re-do, proposing that the United States government opt-out of this mechanism while Mexico and Canada can choose to opt-in to ISDS if they desire.
Just last week, a Mexican congressman conceded that its negotiators would consider eliminating ISDS from NAFTA. This is a significant accomplishment that could not have occurred without many frustrated re-negotiation attempts that led to no deal being reached before the end of the year. This could not have occurred without grassroots activism.
Furthermore, Mexico is taking steps towards creating more equitable (though very deficient) labor policies that could lead to stronger labor standards in NAFTA. The government just implemented a small minimum wage increase and is in the process of implementing a constitutional amendment that would make labor conciliation and arbitration boards more independent, giving workers more control over labor contracts.
The end of the year has arrived and no deal has been made yet. As the next round of negotiations is scheduled to be in Montreal in January 2018, we should expect any NAFTA deal to be delayed far into 2018 amidst congressional elections in the United States and a heated Mexican presidential election mid-year. Favorable electoral outcomes could result in a holistic change in what NAFTA represents and an end to the free trade consensus that has devastated communities world-wide.
Until then, we must keep the pressure up and make sure that any member of Congress that is an ardent supporter of free trade and ISDS should feel the heat from voters throughout the country.
Trade for People and Planet