House Democrats, who already united against withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, must ensure that protecting that accord is a priority as they negotiate with the Trump administration over a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
While President Donald Trump has pledged to withdraw from the landmark global climate agreement, the president’s top legislative priority for 2019 is to get Congress to approve his proposed NAFTA replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). That gives House Democrats important leverage to ensure the pact protects the environment and addresses other important priorities.
The problem with the USMCA is that it was negotiated without Democratic input or public transparency, so Democrats never really had a chance to shape the deal until now. The current agreement fails to meet basic criteria for modern trade agreements on several fronts, including pharmaceutical prices, labor and environmental enforcement, and addressing climate change.
As it is currently written, the USMCA does not meet baseline environmental criteria for modern trade agreements. It glaringly fails to address or even mention climate change, which is unacceptable, because unbridled free trade exacerbates climate change. Global trade has more than tripled since NAFTA went into effect in 1994. Over that same time, annual global carbon emissions have increased by more than 60 percent.
A simple way to fix the blatant omission of climate in the USMCA and stop the withdrawal from Paris would be to embed the Paris Agreement directly into the USMCA. Fulfilling the historic, bipartisan May 10 Agreement is already part of the Democratic ask. Adding Paris to the seven multilateral environmental agreements in May 10 is not a stretch, especially because earlier this year House Democrats unanimously voted for H.R.9, the Climate Action Now Act, to demonstrate their commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. They can now follow up and make remaining in the Paris Agreement a condition of USMCA approval and include language to underline the importance that the three countries of North America comply with their respective climate mitigation commitments.
New trade agreements that don’t protect the environment or communities, that allow carve outs for oil and gas companies, and that fail to address climate change will result in higher greenhouse gas emissions and make the climate crisis worse. The U.S. should seek to expand and strengthen modern trade agreements, but only if the agreements help improve the quality of life for people living in the nations involved.
Just as the original NAFTA became a model for subsequent trade agreements, a new version of NAFTA could serve as a model for trade agreements over the next several decades, so it is imperative that it becomes stronger on enforcement and meaningfully addresses climate change. Not only will it keep the U.S. on track for meeting its National Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement, it will also ensure our trading partners do, too.
Fortunately, many members already understand the connection between climate and trade policy. In September, 110 House Democrats including 18 committee chairs sent a letter to President Trump expressing the need to address climate in the USMCA and stay in the Paris Climate Agreement.
Democratic leaders have also expressed the need to address climate in trade:
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said, “Any changes to NAFTA must put America’s working families first, and recognize the fundamental connection between commerce and climate.”
- Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has said, “The deal must also raise wages and should recognize that climate change is a grave threat to our countries’ economies and the health and safety of our citizens.”
- In a House Ways and Means Committee hearing in May, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade said, “The new NAFTA does not require parties to adopt, maintain, and implement the seven relevant multilateral environmental agreements identified in the May 10th agreement. Sadly but predictably, it does not address the effects of climate change, the most glaring flaw for the future of trade and the future of the planet.”
- In April, every Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee joined a letter to President Trump which said, “We are particularly disappointed that the new Agreement’s environment chapter fails to incorporate the May 10 framework requiring parties to adopt, maintain, and implement all seven of the relevant multilateral environmental agreements. We are also disappointed that the environment chapter lacks any apparent provisions directed at mitigating the effects of climate change.”
Democrats’ position is clear and they cannot abandon their commitment to Paris. The May 10 Agreement was signed back in 2007 and should serve as a starting point for negotiations. But that is not enough, and a lot has happened since 2007—including the historic signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Democrats should unite around the fact that the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st Century—climate change—cannot be ignored by 21st Century trade agreements.