American Opinion: Update NAFTA, then move on
American Opinion: Stability is the operative word. Though highly unpopular in many quarters, especially the (often Democratic-leaning) industrial heartland — where it was blamed for loss of jobs to lower-wage Mexico — NAFTA, for better or worse, legally defines the multitrillion-dollar economic relationship among the United States and its two neighbors.
On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested that President Donald Trump may be impeachable due to "bribery" and gave her strongest signal yet that the House Democratic leadership is close to a deal with the White House that would enable the passage of Trump's update to the North American Free Trade Agreement. In fact, she said those two seemingly contradictory things within the same news conference. Politics is indeed a strange and wondrous business.
Thank goodness. Governability can no longer be taken for granted in Washington, much less actual legislation. The impeachment of Trump along what are so far highly partisan lines threatened to deepen the dysfunctionality, despite promises from Pelosi and other Democratic leaders that the House could "walk and chew gum at the same time." Pelosi's optimistic words regarding the NAFTA revision, which Trump calls the U.S.-Mexico- Canada Agreement, were clearly carefully chosen and confirm that she was serious about her pledge to continue attending to the people's business while the hearings proceed. This is a tribute also to the several dozen moderate members of her caucus, many first-termers elected from swing districts, who recognize that it is in their interest — as well as the country's — to preserve stability in the hemispheric economy.
Stability is the operative word. Though highly unpopular in many quarters, especially the (often Democratic-leaning) industrial heartland — where it was blamed for loss of jobs to lower-wage Mexico — NAFTA, for better or worse, legally defines the multitrillion-dollar economic relationship among the United States and its two neighbors. To blow it up and revert to the higher-tariff status quo ante, as Trump threatened to do both in his 2016 campaign and as president, would have been disastrous.
On the other hand, having gone into effect in 1994, NAFTA was due for modernization, particularly to take into account of new developments in e-commerce. Therefore, when Trump agreed to engage with Mexico and Canada in a renegotiation of the deal, it was wise for Democrats not to dismiss the effort out of hand, even if it might mean ultimately having to share credit with a Republican president for an initiative they had long promised to mount themselves.
On the merits, Trump's deal is a tweak to NAFTA, disproving his hyperbole about how bad the old agreement was and how good his new one will be. It does indeed improve e-commerce rules and crack Canadian dairy protectionism. For the most part, though, the USMCA deal is about managed trade, not free trade. Its key provisions would set minimum autoworker wages in Mexico and guarantee higher North American content for cars and trucks made in the three signatory countries, so as to protect U.S. jobs.
The realistic alternative, though, is a rupture with Mexico and Canada, which is why Pelosi and the moderates in her caucus are right to work with Trump, and why we hope they will see the USMCA through to House passage, send it to the GOP Senate for likely approval — and then move on to other business, impeachment included.
This editorial is the opinion of The Washington Post's editorial board.