Letter to the Editor: Start renegotiation of Nafta with a focus on workers’ rights

May 28, 2017 Issues: Trade

Sir, The rationale in the FT View (May 21) that “Nafta may have saved jobs in American industry” is breathtaking and reckless. If introducing the low-cost labour of Mexico into the North American supply chain was so beneficial to the US economy why don’t we just bring child labour back to the US? That would really make us competitive vis-à-vis China, and heck our companies wouldn’t even have to move south of border.

Thankfully that twisting of comparative advantage was rejected long ago. I was in Congress when Nafta was negotiated and I remember all too well the promises of increased jobs for the US and the notion that Mexican workers would start to earn more money and as consumers be able to buy US goods. The problem with that equation is that as their productivity increased their wages actually went down. Why? Because they have no rights in the workplace, and the entire labour regime is stacked against them. They cannot join together and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions. And the labour enforcement system is controlled by the government and the company.

As a result, there is extreme downward pressure on US wages and US jobs. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the US lost nearly 700,000 jobs between 1993 and 2010 because of Nafta. And, with the share of auto production in Mexico projected to double by 2021 there is no way we can rely on the faulty conclusion that we have maintained “advanced, higher-skilled work”.

Nafta is a failure because workers have not benefited. The renegotiation must start there.

Sander Levin
Member of US Congress
Royal Oak, MI, US

You can view the original letter here.