James T. Brett: New England needs approval of new NAFTA



While the U.S. economy continues to show steady signs of growth, there is considerable concern in the business community about current U.S. trade policies and their potential to stunt that growth. And rightly so – with 95% of the world’s consumers located outside of the U.S., it is critical that we have policies in place to promote international trade and expand access to foreign markets for American businesses.

Fortunately, our leaders in Congress have the opportunity to take an important step to bolster U.S. exports and drive continued economic growth by approving the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which was signed earlier this year. Approval of this agreement is of particular consequence here in New England, where two of our region’s top trade partners are our neighbors to the north and south.

The USMCA makes critical updates to modernize the previous trade pact between our three nations – the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

NAFTA, which was approved and has been in place since 1994, was written before many of the digital technologies that drive our 21st century global economy, such as cloud computing and online commerce, even existed. The USMCA includes important provisions to address such topics as cross-border data flow and data localization, and takes key steps to protect U.S. intellectual property.

The importance of trade with Canada and Mexico to the New England economy cannot be overstated. Canada is a top-three trade partner for all six New England states, and Mexico is in the top 10 for five of the six states in the region.

Exports from the six New England states to Canada and Mexico totaled nearly $13 billion in 2018 alone. That includes $420 million in exports from New Hampshire alone. Some of the top exports from the Granite State include computer and electronic products, machinery and transportation equipment.

At the same time, trade with our North American neighbors supported over 600,000 jobs in New England in 2017, including nearly 55,000 jobs in New Hampshire.

Some members of Congress have expressed reservations about the USMCA, particularly on such issues as labor and environmental protections, patent exclusivity for certain medicines and enforcement mechanisms.

While the business community appreciates these concerns, walking away from the USMCA because of them would be, simply put, disastrous.

Fortunately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken the initiative to establish a working group to negotiate with Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, to address these concerns. Several New Englanders – House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts as well as Connecticut Representatives Rosa DeLauro and John Larson – have been named to this nine-member group, so our region’s interests are certainly well-represented, and we are confident that the working group will reach a satisfactory resolution.

In our 21st Century global economy, access to foreign markets is vital to the success of American businesses. It is imperative, therefore, that the U.S. continue to maintain and expand trade relationship with key partners around the globe, and in particular, with our immediate neighbors here in North America. The New England Council is hopeful that Congress will consider the impact trade with Canada and Mexico on our nation’s economic well-being, and will take swift action to approve this important trade deal.

James T. Brett is the president and CEO of The New England Council, a non-partisan alliance of businesses and organizations.

James T. Brett: New England has benefited greatly from NAFTA

The Canada Border Inspection Station at Stanstead, Quebec, just across the border from Derby Line, Vt.

The Canada Border Inspection Station at Stanstead, Quebec, just across the border from Derby Line, Vt.

From The New England Council (

Over the past 18 months, we have seen a marked shift in U.S. trade policy. Soon after taking office, President Trump made good on his campaign promise and announced that the U.S. would seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA,) a multilateral agreement with Canada and Mexico that was put into effect in 1994. In more recent months—amid reports that NAFTA talks have grown contentious and that the U.S. is considering withdrawing altogether — the administration announced tariffs on certain imports that directly affect our neighbors to the immediate north and south.

Canada and Mexico are not only important allies, they are significant economic partners for the U.S., and for the New England states in particular. As the voice of the region’s business community, The New England Council believes it is of critical importance that the U.S. continue to work toward a modernized NAFTA, and that the administration should reconsider the tariffs against our partners in Canada and Mexico.

The impact of trade with Canada and Mexico on the New England economy cannot be understated. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Canada is the premier goods export market for businesses in five of the six New England states — in the sixth state, it is the second-largest market — representing more than $8.3 billion in exports in 2017 alone. Canada estimates that in 2017, service exports from our six states totaled nearly $3.3 billion. Mexico is also a top trade partner for our region, with three states counting our southern neighbor as their second- or third-ranking export market for goods. The region exported $4.4 billion worth of goods to Mexico in 2017, and remains a significant multibillion-dollar market for goods produced in Mexico. Data from the International Trade Administration indicates some 10.7 million American jobs are supported by goods and services exports, and it is doubtless that tens of thousands of New England jobs rely upon trade with Canada and Mexico.

The tariffs that President Trump has put into place are already having a significant impact here in New England. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently released a state-by-state analysis of the impact of the emerging trade war on U.S. exports. According to the report, as a result of the administration’s tariffs, $11 million in New Hampshire exports to Canada are targeted for retaliation, and close to $1 million in exports to Mexico are targeted for retaliation. Some of the hardest hit products include steel and aluminum products, lighting products, and certain foods. In total, nearly $2.7 billion in New England exports to Canada and Mexico face retaliation.

It is certainly appropriate to revisit and update major trade agreements. Some elements of our economy did not even exist at the time NAFTA was first negotiated, and we commend the administration for taking steps to modernize this historic agreement. At the same time, the President is right to be concerned about trade imbalances and to seek ways to minimize trade deficits. However, given the importance of trade with these two nations, it is gravely concerning that the administration would even suggest withdrawing from NAFTA. Further, the evidence laid out by the U.S. Chamber’s new report suggests that the tariffs are most certainly not serving our nation’s best interests, and could harm disparate and unrelated sectors of our economy.

It is understandable that partners and neighbors, on occasion, can have temporary disagreements over policy considerations, including on trade matters. However, The New England Council believes it is crucial that the playing field remain open for businesses, workers, and families across New England, so that they — through no fault of their own — are not disadvantaged by potential retaliatory trade measures or a defunct NAFTA.

James T. Brett is the president and CEO of the New England Council.


Jim Hightower: Mexican farmers get the better of Trump's trade and border insanity


Often, when world powers pick fights with seemingly powerless countries, they learn that even small dogs have sharp teeth — as President Trump is finding out in his ill-fated war with Mexico.

His scheme to wall off Mexico is collapsing because most people here in the U.S. think it’s stupid — around 60 percent of the public say they just won’t buy his $21 billion boondoggle. But Mexicans are the ones blunting Trump’s other major attack on them — an attempt to slap a 20-percent border tax on products shipped into the U.S.

“Nobody knows more about trade than me,” The Donald crowed during his presidential run. Narcissistic hyperbole aside, it turns out that Mexican farmers do know a lot more about corn than he does — and they know that a lot of U.S.-Mexico trade consists of corn.

Until NAFTA, Mexico was a corn exporter. But such grain trading giants as Cargill wrote provisions into NAFTA to rig the rules to let them grab Mexico’s corn market. This drove hundreds of thousands of Mexican producers out of business and made Mexico — where corn originated — dependent on imports from the U.S.

But now, Mexicans are turning that imported corn into a political weapon against Trump’s trade bluster. Rather than buy from the U.S., they’re negotiating to import corn from Brazil — and even more significantly, they’re planning to invest in their own farmers to make Mexico self-sufficient again in this important crop.

Their counter-offensive has caused apoplexy among congressional Republicans from the U.S. corn belt. About 75 percent of Iowa’s corn, for example, goes to Mexico, and losing that market would devastate Iowa’s economy.

So the “little dog” bit Trump on the rump, and the big dog has now backed away from his border-tax idea — having learned that even farmers know more about trade than he does.

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, public speaker and editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. 

Jill Richardson: No, let's not play nice with this authoritarian abuser

As Donald Trump plans his transition into the White House, some have called for “unity.” Let’s “come together,” they say. Let’s “give him a chance.”

I say no.

When a man abuses his wife, you don’t tell her to give him a chance. You don’t tell her to try to talk things out with him. Meet him halfway. Hear his side of it. Believe him when he says he loves her and he won’t hit her again.

Why? Because it won’t work.

The rules of normal social conduct don’t apply in such a case. Nor do they apply in this one. As I’ve said before, Trump exhibits textbook emotional abuse tactics.

If you give him a chance, he’ll walk all over you. If you go into any negotiation ready to meet him in the middle, he’ll demand it isn’t enough, that he must get his way entirely. And he’ll strong-arm you to get it.

We already have evidence that Trump does absolutely everything he can get away with.

He walked in on naked teenage beauty queens while they were changing, just because he could. Twelve women have accused him of sexual assault. He openly admits that he kisses and gropes them without consent.

He doesn’t pay contractors for their work. During the campaign, he even stiffed his own pollster. And his lawyers had to meet with him in pairs to prevent him from lying about their meetings.

This is a man who’ll do anything he can get away with. And he’s about as ready to change as a man who beats his wife would be.

So we can’t roll over and let him. We fight.

That’s what we must do now. We must make it absolutely as hard as possible for this man to wreck our democracy. And that’s not a partisan statement.

At this point, it’s not about whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. It’s not about whether you prefer to repeal NAFTA or Obamacare, or about whether you think same-sex marriage should be legal.

It’s now about whether you think the democracy the United States has had for over 200 years should remain in existence. If the answer to that question is yes, then it’s time to fight. Because that’s what’s under threat.

The pain of this bitter election hurts. For the second time in recent years, the Electoral College is on track to install a president who received fewer votes from the American people than his opponent--- in this case more than a million fewer.

We’re all dealing with difficult emotions in different ways. I’m listening to audiobooks and knitting. Okay, and ugly crying. Others are protesting. And some are trying to handle their anger and fear by “thinking positive.”

It’s not the time for that. Not when thinking positive means denying reality.

It’s been only days since the election and Trump has already appointed Steve Bannon, a white supremacist and “alt-right” media kingpin, as a top adviser. If you wanted to give Trump a chance, there. He’s had one. He blew it.

The next four years are going to be hard. But now is the time to start mobilizing. The continuation of our very democracy depends on it.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. Distributed by

Janet Redman: Enacting TPP would be a perilous bet


From her home in Berks County, Pa., Karen Feridun is helping stage a growing citizen pushback against the expansion of natural-gas extraction. But a far-reaching global deal recently signed halfway around the world may make her job much harder.

Feridun got involved in this fight over concerns that fracking waste laden with toxic chemicals that could end up in the sewage sludge that some Pennsylvania towns spread on local farm fields.

Figuring her best bet for keeping the state’s water, food, and communities safe was putting a stop to fracking, Feridun founded Berks Gas Truth. The group is now part of a statewide coalition calling for a halt to fracking in Pennsylvania.

The campaign got a boost when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, after hearing a case brought by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, ruled that local governments have the right to protect the public trust. The court also found that oil and gas companies must abide by municipal zoning and planning laws.

The decision was celebrated as a huge victory for local control. But, Feridun told me, “the Trans-Pacific Partnership could turn over the apple cart entirely.”

The day after we spoke, U.S. Trade Rep. Michael Frohman joined top officials from eleven other Pacific Rim nations in a New Zealand casino to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a sweeping “free trade” agreement aimed at opening national borders to the flow of goods, services, and finance.

The location couldn’t have been more symbolic. By entering into this deal, the Obama administration is playing roulette with America’s future.

The White House hopes to win greater access to raw materials, cheap labor, and burgeoning consumer markets in Asia for U.S. companies. What do we stand to lose? Nothing less than the ability to set rules and regulations that protect our families’ health, our jobs, and our environment.

The provision at the heart of this wager is something called an “investor-state” clause. It would let companies based in TPP partner countries sue governments over laws or regulations that curtail their profit-making potential.

It’s a risky bet. Here’s the White House’s simplistic calculus: The U.S. government has never lost an investor-state case.

The more we win, it seems, the bigger our next gamble. The TPP would be the largest free- trade agreement in history, covering about 40 percent of the global economy and giving additional countries the option to “dock” to the treaty later. It also adds thousands of companies that could potentially sue the United States in trade court.

Back in Berks County, the demand from newly opened overseas markets for U.S. gas may increase local pressure to frack. The TPP’s investor-state provisions would let foreign-owned gas companies challenge any statewide limits on the practice standing in their way.

If this sounds unlikely, look no further than our neighbors to the north. U.S. oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources is suing Canada using a similar clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) when Quebec passed a moratorium to halt fracking under the St. Lawrence River.

Now, TransCanada — the Canadian company behind the hugely unpopular Keystone XL pipeline — is bringing a $15 billion claim against the United States for denying permits to build it. That’s exactly the kind of legal action that makes people like Karen Feridun fighting oil and gas projects nervous.

Even if Washington wins the TransCanada suit under NAFTA, the fear of spending millions of dollars fending off litigation under the much larger TPP could have a chilling effect on future efforts to keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

Luckily, as Feridun and her neighbors know, Congress hasn’t approved the Trans-Pacific Partnership yet. If lawmakers care about protecting good jobs, clean skies, safe water, and a stable climate in this hotly contested election year, they’d be wise not to gamble against the public interest.

Janet Redman directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies.