Climate-Friendly Trade? We’re Not the Only Ones Calling for It.

Senator Bernie Sanders outlines a vision for replacing NAFTA that supports people, not corporate polluters.

The fight to replace the polluter-friendly North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) just got another boost of momentum: Leading Senators – including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand – just unveiled a bold “People First” vision for replacing NAFTA in a letter to Donald Trump. It’s an antidote to Trump’s “Corporate America First” trade agenda.

The Senators’ recipe for rewriting NAFTA mirrors the #ReplaceNAFTA demands made by environmentalists, workers, family farmers, consumers, and immigrants across North America. These groups recently gathered in Montreal, outside the closed doors of the latest round of secret NAFTA talks, and called for a NAFTA replacement that puts people and planet before billionaire CEOs.

A few days later, those calls echoed in the Senators’ letter. The letter states plainly: any renegotiated NAFTA must “end the destructive race to the bottom, protect our air and water, reduce prescription drug prices, support climate action, and lift living standards in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.”

The Senators’ clear vision for what should replace NAFTA stands in stark contrast to the utter lack of trade vision expressed by Trump in his recent State of the Union address. While devoting much of his speech to vitriol against immigrants, the words Trump spent on trade amounted to less than two tweets. He failed to even mention his typical platitudes about NAFTA.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to renegotiate NAFTA behind closed doors. A chasm lies between what the administration is reportedly putting on the table and what the Senators call for in their “People First” vision. Here’s a sample:

  • The Senators’ letter calls for transparent NAFTA negotiations, led by public input. But so far, the Trump administration has been shutting the public out while inviting advice from corporate polluters and job offshorers.

  • The letter calls for binding labor and environmental standards in NAFTA’s replacement – to raise wages, create good union jobs, and protect our air, water, and climate. But in the NAFTA talks, the Trump administration has refused to accept Canadian proposals that would do just that.  Instead, the Trump administration has proposed copying and pasting the weak labor and environmental terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal that Trump claimed to hate.

  • The letter calls for replacing NAFTA with a deal that benefits workers and communities across borders. By contrast, Trump recently said he'd like the NAFTA talks to help fund his racist border wall.

  • The letter calls for a NAFTA replacement that supports climate action. But the Trump administration’s apparent NAFTA agenda is an exercise in climate denial – it includes handouts to corporate polluters that would lock us into decades more of fossil fuel dependency.

And these Senate champions are not the only ones calling for a fundamentally different, climate-friendly approach to trade.

Just last week, European officials revealed that the European Union will not negotiate trade agreements with countries that do not implement the Paris Climate Agreement. (The U.S. is the only country that has announced its intention to withdraw from the global climate deal.)

That’s huge. It mirrors the demand – included in the Senators’ letter and backed by leading environmental groups – for NAFTA’s replacement to require the adoption of policies that fulfill the Paris Climate Agreement. Trade agreements must reinforce – not undermine – our climate agreements.

Why is this so important? Because for too long, trade deals like NAFTA have allowed corporations to evade strong climate policies by simply moving their climate pollution – and jobs – to countries with weaker policies.

This climate shell game must stop. No country should have to fear that climate action will be negated, or that jobs will be lost, due to an antiquated trade deal. It’s past time that trade deals support workers and climate progress, not corporate polluters.

Will that demand show up on the NAFTA negotiating table? Maybe. The government of Canada has already stated that the Paris climate goals are a priority in renegotiating NAFTA. Canadian groups are asking their government to demonstrate this commitment by proposing binding climate standards in the NAFTA talks.  

The anomaly of Donald Trump should not deter Canada from doing so. Trump's attempt to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement will only take effect in November 2020, one day after the next U.S. presidential election. A future U.S. president could reinsert the U.S. into Paris in as little as 30 days. A binding, multi-decade trade pact should not be influenced by a fleeting disregard for climate science, such as that which infects the current White House.

While Trump may be fine with NAFTA turning a cold shoulder to workers and families affected by the climate crisis, his regressive trade agenda will not be here forever. Momentum is on our side, from the streets of Montreal to the halls of the U.S. Senate. The future lies not in Trump’s false populism, but in trade agreements that center people and the planet.

Activists shut out of closed-door NAFTA talks in Montreal, including Sierra Club trade program director Ben Beachy, call to replace NAFTA with a deal that supports good jobs, healthy communities, and climate action.

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