Dingell: Eliminate NAFTA’s offshoring incentives

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell is urging President Donald Trump's administration to push to eliminate provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement that she says provide incentives for companies to “offshore” jobs to Mexico.

The Dearborn Democrat also wants to challenge foreign governments that purposely weaken the U.S. dollar in a bid to boost profits for their nations’ industries.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Dearborn, Dingell said the Trump administration should seek to renew policies that require companies that do business with the U.S. government to buy American parts for their projects.

She also wants the administration to release drafts of proposed changes to the controversial trade agreement after each round of negotiations with counterparts in Canada and Mexico.

“We have an opportunity to renegotiate this failed agreement, but we must do so in a way that puts working families first,” Dingell said. “We need to pay close attention to ensure that any renegotiated agreement creates jobs, raises wages and brings manufacturing back to this country.”

In talks that were triggered shortly after the new president took office, the Trump administration is pushing for wholesale changes to NAFTA, which was enacted in 1994 to create a free-trade zone between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Administration officials say terms of the deal have allowed trade deficits with neighboring countries, especially Mexico, to balloon.

On the campaign trail last year, Trump said he would end the trade pact with Canada and Mexico and slap a 10 percent to 35 percent tariff on vehicles and parts made in Mexico that are imported into the U.S. if the NAFTA renegotiation is not a success. Critics have said that could add $5,000 to $15,000 to the price of a car in the U.S.

Some made-in-America hawks, including Dingell, have pushed the Trump administration to advocate for a toughening of requirements for parts made in the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment. The current threshold is 62.5 percent of parts; some have called for that to be raised to as much as 90 percent, or moving to a system involving nation-specific requirements.

Dingell said Wednesday that changes to NAFTA are long overdue.

“Every month, corporations send more jobs to Mexico,” she said.

Dingell added the Trump administration should push “to eliminate NAFTA’s ban on the Buy American and Buy Local policies that reinvest Americans’ tax dollars to creating jobs and innovation at home” and crack down on efforts by foreign leaders to manipulate the exchange rates between their currencies and the U.S. dollar.

“As I have been saying since the day I got elected to Congress, not only NAFTA, any trade deal that we have must include strong, enforceable provisions to address currency manipulation, the mother of all trade barriers, which is critical for Michigan’s economy and the domestic auto industry,” she said.

Renegotiating NAFTA was a central theme of Trump’s campaign as he promised voters that he would take steps to improve economic conditions, especially in auto-dependent states in the Midwest.

The next round of talks between the three nations has been scheduled for Sept. 23-27 in Ottawa, Canada. Previous talks have been held in Washington, D.C. and Mexico City.

Labor leaders who were in attendance Wednesday night agreed with Dingell that NAFTA needs to be changed drastically.

“NAFTA hasn’t just destroyed jobs. NAFTA’s ruined lives and NAFTA’s hurt families,” said Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

AJ Freer, vice president of the United Auto Workers union’s Local 600, added that NAFTA has allowed companies to take advantage of cheaper labor and lax workplace rules in Mexico.

“These aren’t people that stole our jobs,” he said of Mexican workers. “These are people that are being exploited. ... If it’s going to be a discussion about NAFTA, we have to talk about human rights violations to people that’s occurring in Mexico, South America and all over this world. Those standards of living have to come up.”

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing