Skip to content

MLive, NAFTA and Misinformation

August 29, 2017

On Sunday, Mlive ran an article on the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA, entitled, What You Need to Know About NAFTA and its Impact on Michigan. 

The article provides an oversimplified explanation of the trade agreement, that limits the perspectives shared, as well as providing unsubstantiated claims.

The MLive definition of NAFTA states:

The North American Free Trade Agreement deal either reduced or eliminated tariffs on products in many key industries and introduced sets of industrial, environmental, health and safety standards for the three participating countries to follow. (US, Canada & Mexico)

This is the official definition that governments and corporations have been putting forth since late 1993. However, the reality on the ground has been radically different. A good source for understanding how NAFTA came to be adopted by all three governments can be found in John MacArthur’s book, The Selling of “Free Trade”: NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy. MacArthur makes it clear that NAFTA is a trade agreement that benefits the wealthy in all three countries and increases hardship for the poor and working class from each country. Another perspective not found in MLive, is that of the insurgent indigenous group in Chiapas, known as the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas refer to Mexico as, “a death sentence for the indigenous people of Mexico.”

The reason why the Zapatistas have taken this view of NAFTA is based on their experience of how it has been devastating for those who live off the land. Because of the cheap, subsidized corn and other agricultural products that flooded the Mexican economy after NAFTA, millions of small farmers were forced off the land, unable to compete with the subsidized US food products

The influx of subsidized food products from the US also increased the number of people who were forced to flee Mexico and come to the US, many of them undocumented immigrants. There is no acknowledgement of these dynamics in the MLive article and there are no Mexican farmer and immigrant perspectives on the trade agreement.

Corporate and government voices

The only perspectives we get from the MLive article are those who are elected officials and Michigan agri-business voices. There is one source from organized labor, but this is only in reference to President Trump playing golf instead of renegotiating NAFTA. Such a statement provides no real insight from the dozens of US labor groups that have been fighting against NAFTA from the very beginning.

For example, based on the Bureau of Labor data, Michigan has lost 196,730 manufacturing jobs during since NAFTA/WTO went into effect in 1994. This challenges the oversimplified statement in MLive, which says, “Many critics contend the deal has weakened the United States’ manufacturing industry by encouraging businesses to move operations to Mexico for cheaper labor, however.”

The MLive article also provides limited analysis of what it is the Trump administration is or is not doing around the renegotiation of NAFTA, nor does MLive provide a link to the actual working document that the Trump administration has put forth in regards to NAFTA

The MLive reporter also provides no sources outside of the administration, such as what non-partisan groups like Public Citizen, which has responded directly to the Trump administration document released in July: 

“This document does not describe the promised transformation of NAFTA to prioritize working people that some voters were expecting based on President Trump’s campaign pledges.

More than 910,000 specific American jobs have been certified as lost to NAFTA under just one narrow program, but this document does not make clear whether NAFTA’s job offshoring incentives or its ban on Buy American procurement policy will be eliminated or labor or environmental standards better than the widely rejected one in the TPP will be added.

The document is quite vague so while negotiations can start in 30 days, it’s unclear what will be demanded on key issues, whether improvements for working people could be in the offing or whether the worst aspects of the TPP will be added making NAFTA yet more damaging for working people. The administration should follow the European Union’s practice and make public its actual proposals being shared with Mexico and Canada prior to talks starting.

The Trump administration has a very narrow pathway to both achieving the president’s campaign pledges on NAFTA and passing a new NAFTA deal. Achieving Trump’s campaign-promised NAFTA deficit-lowering and U.S. job creation goals will require changes to NAFTA that GOP congressional leaders and the corporate lobby oppose and about which this document remains vague. Even if a bloc of GOP rank and file members may support elimination of NAFTA’s investor offshoring incentives and Buy American ban, which are necessary to achieve Trump’s goals, a sizable bloc of Democratic votes will be needed to pass a new NAFTA of that sort. But GOP congressional leaders and the corporate lobby are demanding TPP elements be added to NAFTA and that will push away Democrats. Some aspects of that TPP agenda can be seen in today’s document because much of the text repeats the negotiating objectives of the 2015 Fast Track bill, which GOP leaders and the corporate lobby loved and most congressional Democrats, a sizable bloc of GOP congressional members and labor and civil society groups opposed.”

What we get instead from MLive is lazy journalism that tells us very little about NAFTA and often misleads readers as to what the actual impact has been on people who live in Michigan.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: