Trump: New trade deal means more manufacturing jobs for Michigan

Ian Thibodeau Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Warren —  President Donald Trump told the crowd gathered inside a Dana Inc. manufacturing facility that his newly signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement would bring more manufacturing jobs to Michigan and America.

Trump stopped here Thursday ahead of a planned rally in Iowa a day after he signed the USMCA, a deal expected to be a boon for the North American automotive industry.

The visit to the heart of Macomb County is Trump's fifth visit during his presidency to Michigan, which helped him clinch the 2016 election and is expected to be a key battleground in 2020.

"We just ended a nightmare known as NAFTA," Trump said. "They took our jobs for along time. ... We now have a brand new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (that is) a whole different ball game."

"Jobs are coming back and they're coming back fast," he said. "They're coming right here in Michigan."

Michigan has gained 12,100 manufacturing jobs since Trump took office in January 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the same period, the state has gained more than 127,000 jobs and seen its unemployment rate drop a full percentage point to 3.9% in December, according to federal data.

Trump called USMCA a "balanced and beneficial trade agreement" and said it's the "best agreement we've ever made."

The trade agreement, “if fully implemented and enforced,” would increase inflation-adjusted gross domestic product or economic output by $68.2 billion, or 0.35% over several years, according to the International Trade Commission, an independent agency. It would add 176,000 jobs to the U.S. economy, the commission estimated.

A labor federation argued that pressure from unions strengthened the new trade deal.

"Now for the first time, there will be labor standards that are actually enforceable," Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said in a statement. "Make no mistake, Trump's first proposal was seriously flawed. Our brothers and sisters in labor stood in solidarity to bargain for a better deal. We are grateful for Democrats in Congress for fighting for, and delivering, a trade deal that working people can proudly support." 

The president, up for reelection this year, took credit for billions of dollars in investment by the Detroit Three automakers planned for Michigan, and the thousands of jobs the moves are expected to bring. Politicians historically have promised to reform NAFTA, but never followed through, he said.

"I just want to say that I've kept my promise," Trump said. "Not only my promise in loving the people of Michigan and all over the country, but my promise of taking care so that some of the other countries aren't ripping us off. They've been ripping us off."

Trump spoke inside the Ohio-based company's factory under banners that touted the USMCA, which replaces the 35-year-old North America Free Trade Agreement. The banners included a common slogan from Trump's reelection rallies, "Promises made. Promises kept."

The Dana Inc. plant employs more than 800 workers and makes lightweight axle tubes and hollow axle shafts, according to the company.

"While we believe the passed legislation will provide a much-needed modernizing of the 25-year-old NAFTA agreement, like our customers, Dana relies heavily on a regional integrated supply chain," said James Kamsickas, CEO and president of Dana Inc., before Trump's arrival. "We believe this law will further reduce the chance of disruptions and allow North America vehicle production to remain competitive globally."

President Donald Trump is greeted by Michigan Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield upon arrival at Selfridge Air Base in Harrison Township on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.

Trump said Thursday at minimum the USMCA would "create up to 80,000 minimum, probably about 120,000, new jobs" and increase purchases of U.S. auto parts $23 billion a year, and automotive investment by "at least" $34 billion.

"It's coming back," Trump said, noting that unions and manufacturers supported the USMCA. "It's all coming back."

But some Democrats don't agree with the USMCA. U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, who represents Warren in the House, voted against the deal in December along with 37 other Democrats.

Levin joined Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Justin Amash, I-Cascade Township, in opposing the new trade deal. All House Republicans, five House Democrats and both of Michigan's Democratic U.S. senators approved the agreement.

In a Thursday interview, Levin said the deal would hurt workers in places like Warren and Madison Heights because companies would continue to send jobs to Mexico under it.

Trump is holding the event in his district, the 9th Congressional District, because it's as industrial of a district as any in the country, he said. While the stock market is doing well and unemployment in Michigan was 3.9% in December, economic inequality is rising, Levin argued. The dream of a secure retirement and sending children to college is further away for many, he said.

"He can come to Warren all he wants," Levin said of Trump. "But on Nov. 3, the people of Macomb County who are famously unpredictable and swingy, are going to vote for somebody who actually lifts up their economic interests."

In 2016, Macomb County helped Trump become the first Republican presidential candidate to win Michigan since 1988. He carried the county by 12 percentage points or 48,438 votes. He won Michigan by 10,704 votes, or less than two-tenths of a percentage point.

In 2012, Democrat Barack Obama won Macomb County by 4 percentage points.

Tom Moran, a school bus driver from Fenton, noted Trump's slim margin of victory in Michigan during an interview outside the Dana plant. Moran stood with a sign that alleged, "Trump sold us out," and highlighted the administration's tax cuts enacted in 2017, which Moran's sign described as "huge tax cuts for 1%."

"You better not skip it this time," Moran said of the 2020 election, "because look what happened.”

Trump also reflected on the 2016 election multiple times during his speech. At one point, the event sounded somewhat like a campaign rally with the crowd chanting "four more years."

The president's visit to Warren on Thursday was his first to Michigan during the 2020 election year. Three of his prior visits were rallies, including his last trip to a Battle Creek in December.

Trump was joined by son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, social media director Dan Scavino and former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. Trump was greeted at Selfridge Air Force Base by House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is now president and lobbyist for the Small Business Association of Michigan.

The USMCA would require automakers to produce vehicles with 75% of parts originating from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment. The requirement, referred to as “rules of origin,” is an increase from 62.5% under current North American Free Trade Agreement rules.

Further, 40-45% of an auto's content must be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour. Vehicles not meeting the requirements will be subject to a 2.5% duty.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. officials on Wednesday called the agreement vital to the success of the North American automotive industry. Michigan lawmakers on Wednesday dubbed the deal a "vast" improvement over NAFTA.

Trump thanks the Detroit Three companies publicly for their announced plans to invest in U.S. facilities. Fiat Chrysler plans to open a new manufacturing plant in Detroit later this year. GM just announced plans to convert its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant to build electric vehicles. Ford has investments planned at multiple Michigan facilities.

"That's just what they're doing right now," Trump said. "They're going to be doing a lot more in addition to that. We have many foreign companies coming in, because we're insisting that they build their cars in the United States."

Dana Incorporated's plant in Warren hosted President Donald Trump on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, for an event where Trump touted a trade deal he signed a day earlier, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

The visit to the electoral bellwether that was key to Trump winning Michigan in 2016 was amplified by the fact that a sitting American president hadn't visited the plant since September 1942, when president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, visited what was then the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant. Dana is one of the top-five U.S.-based automotive suppliers.

"People are proud of our country again," Trump said. "My administration is very pro-worker. ... They said that you needed a magic wand to create manufacturing jobs. Well, we found the magic wand."

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau

Detroit News Staff Writers Evan Carter, Christine Ferretti and Keith Laing contributed.