Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has condemned Bill Clinton's signing of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
"NAFTA is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country."
To his roaring audiences, Trump likes to cite this agreement as the main reason why American workers have lost their jobs. President Bill Clinton is the villain, he tells them. And now, his wife is running for president. The horrorof it!
“I’m going tell our NAFTA partners that I intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers,”
According to Trump, NAFTA is the culprit for destroying America's manufacturing sector. Today, there are about 12.2 million manufacturing workers, down from 17 million in 1994, according to the Labor Department. As we have seen in another blog post, this claim is extraordinarily misleading (even for Trump.)
The real demolition of the manufacturing sector came primarily as a result of George W. Bush's rush to outsource jobs to nations like China and India. That occurred a full 6 years after NAFTA came into effect.
John Snow, the US Secretary of the Treasury under U.S. President George W. Bush, declared with the utmost surety:
The outsourcing of U.S. jobs “is part of trade... and there can’t be any doubt about the fact that trade makes the economy stronger.”
The damaging effect of NAFTA is debatable. Nevertheless, Trump is not one to bother with the facts or even other possibilities. Trump also called NAFTA the “worst legacies” of the Clinton years.
There are other problems with Trump's narrative.
Without question, Trump told the truth when he pointed out that Clinton signed the treaty on December 8th, 1993. But, like most things Trump has said, there's a lot more to the story.
The thing he didn't tell his supporters was what happened a year earlier. On December 17, 1992, U.S. President George H. W. Bush, in a formal ceremony, signed the NAFTA agreement. The signing ceremony was the culmination of years of diplomatic negotiations among three nations, Mexico, Canada and the US.
Written into the treaty was a mandatory "fast-track" legislative process, under which Congress can only vote the agreement up or down. Congress could not make changes to the signed document, at this point.
According to that Bush allowed Congress 90 days to consider the agreement before he signed it. And 17 December 1992 was his first opportunity. The treaty was then reviewed by Clinton in order to ensure it fit in with US law and tariffs required by the treaty.
As established by President Bush, Congress then had 90 legislative days to vote up or down on the implementing legislation or change it.
At the time, many questioned whether the president-elect Clinton would re-negotiate the terms of the agreement. On the day that Bush signed NAFTA, Clinton announced that he would not attempt to overhaul the bill and would leave it as the former president had signed. As it was reported at the time, the president in waiting was willing t address certain concerns:
"I will pursue those other things that I think need to be done in the public interest, then I will prepare implementing legislation and try to pass it in Congress."As one source reported at that time:
His new administration would also take domestic action on assisting workers, protecting the U.S. environment, helping farmers, encouraging public participation in consideration of the agreement and closing loopholes for foreign workers, he said."I believe these steps do not require renegotiation of NAFTA," said Mr. Clinton, promising to work closely with the two neighboring governments and with congress to "move this process forward."
Following this, the treaty needed to be ratified by each nation's legislative or parliamentary branch. After a lot of intense discussion, the House of Representatives voted on and approved of the NAFTA Implementation Act on 17 November 1993. It's important to note too that the agreement's supporters included 132 Republicans and 102 Democrats.
From there, the bill went to the Senate on 20 November 1993, Senators passed the bill 61-38, with 34 Republicans and 27 Democrats supporting the passage.
On 8 December 1993, President Bill Clinton signed NAFTA. (the only thing in Trump's tale that is true.)
So, yes, President Bill Clinton did, indeed, sign the NAFTA agreement, only after both Houses of Congress had approved and only after years of negotiations by the former Republican president.
As one trade expert pointed out:
“Under the U.S Constitution, Congress has the last word on international trade. It would be unprecedented for the U.S. to withdraw from a treaty ratified by both houses.”
That process was not at all extraordinary. Whether Trump understands it or not, that what Washington looks like when it is working.
The CEO of a global trade consultancy firm, Carla Hills was once President George H.W. Bush’s top trade negotiator from 1989-93. She has warned that Trump's vow to pull the US out of NAFTA would have “devastating” consequences for the American economy and jobs. She is quoted as saying:
"We haven’t had a president that was so misinformed that he tore up a treaty that his predecessor [signed]"
But, unlike Bill Clinton, that's exactly what Trump seems eager to do when it comes to NAFTA. A Forbes article from earlier this year remarks:
Hills doesn’t know who, if anyone, is advising Trump on trade, but finds that it is “really scary” that in the current world volatility, “where there is trouble on every continent,” the U.S. “would add to it by trying to create friction” with its major trading partners.
Here's the punchline. She also added that for the first time Hills will not be Republican, going instead with a vote for Hillary- that nasty woman.