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Union chief: Donald Trump ‘a fool,’ but right on NAFTA

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Toronto — Canadian auto workers union president Jerry Dias on Thursday said Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump is “a fool,” but admitted he’s right to criticize the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“I think Donald Trump, your Republican candidate, is a fool in so many of the things that he says, but I have to acknowledge that his argument on NAFTA is correct,” Dias, the head of the Unifor labor union, told The Detroit News in an interview. “American workers and Canadian workers sure got the short end of the stick.”

NAFTA took effect in 1994, creating a free-trade bloc between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Dias’ American counterparts at the United Auto Workers union have called the trade deal a job killer that allowed companies to invest billions of dollars in Mexico and send hundreds of thousands of jobs south of the border because of lower labor costs there — an issue Trump has made a staple of his campaign.

Trump in a Monday speech in Detroit repeatedly tied Hillary Clinton to NAFTA, which her husband signed into law as president in 1993. Clinton spoke positively of NAFTA as first lady but has since said the deal did not live up to its original promise. She now supports renegotiation.

When he accepted the Republican nomination for president last month, Trump blasted the 22-year-old pact.

“Our horrible trade agreements with China, and many others, will be totally renegotiated,” the New York real estate tycoon vowed. “That includes renegotiating NAFTA to get a much better deal for America – and we’ll walk away if we don’t get the deal that we want.”

Dias on Thursday said NAFTA never achieved its intended consequences.

“One of the benefits, it was supposed to raise the standard of living of Mexican workers,” he said. “We know that was a great lie given to American and Canadian workers. The facts are the minimum wage in Mexico is 90 cents an hour. One can argue the worker in Mexico today gets paid less than when NAFTA was signed.”

The union chief is also critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed trade agreement involving 12 member nations, noting none of the Detroit Three support it.

“Cutting tariffs doesn’t make an industrial strategy,” Dias told a government committee in July. “In fact, it’ll likely make a bad trade situation worse.”

Dias made his comments about Trump and NAFTA the same day as negotiations formally began between the union and Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. After the Wednesday handshake with General Motors Co. showed the two sides were sharply divided, Dias said there was a different feel to the Thursday talks.

“Today’s kickoff with Ford and with Chrysler were very productive, constructive, respectful,” he told reporters. “There’s a clear difference between today’s discussions and the discussions yesterday. We’re clearly in a different position than GM as it relates to expectations. Though we have similar challenges with Ford and FCA, they understand that investment decisions are going to be a part of 2016 negotiations.”

Unifor is apprehensive not only about the future of GM’s Oshawa Assembly Plant, but has similar concerns for Ford’s Windsor Engine Plant and Fiat Chrysler’s Brampton Assembly Plant.

“We are at a crossroads in the industry here in Canada,” Dias said. “It’s clear to us that if we do not solidify the footprint in this set of negotiations, then the auto industry ... will be much smaller.”

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