Tammy Baldwin announces she’ll vote to pass ‘new NAFTA’

Senator says Democratic modifications led to ‘a better trade deal that I can support’

President Trump signs the USMCA trade agreement with Mexico and Canada
Pres. Trump participates in USMCA signing ceremony, Nov. 30 2018 (Photo courtesy US Dept of State)

Parting company with her Congressional successor, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) Tuesday announced she plans to vote to ratify the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Sen. Tammy Baldwin
Sen. Tammy Baldwin

“President Trump’s trade wars have hurt our Wisconsin economy and more than 1,900 dairy farms have gone out of business since he took office,” Baldwin said in a statement issued late Tuesday, after the Senate Finance Committee endorsed the agreement in a bipartisan vote.

“The President’s deal with Mexico and Canada fell short but I support the improvements Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats won to make this a better trade deal that I can support,” Baldwin stated.

The implementing legislation for the agreement — nicknamed “the new NAFTA” for the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaces — “includes many changes I have pushed for with the Trump administration,” Baldwin said, “including truly enforceable labor standards that benefit our workers, and making sure that we confront Canada’s unfair trade barriers and Mexico’s limits on Wisconsin cheese exports so that we have a trade deal that increases market access for our Wisconsin dairy farmers and cheesemakers.”

Baldwin, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 until her election to the Senate in 2012, pointed out that when the original NAFTA was ratified in 1994 (she was a member of the Wisconsin Assembly at the time), she opposed it because it “cost Wisconsin jobs and needed to be fixed.” She continued: “I will vote for the USMCA because it is a better deal for farmers, manufacturers, businesses and workers.”

The agreement that went to Congress last year, where it passed the House of Representatives in late December, was the result of negotiations that included Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) — seen as a strong labor ally — and the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation. Some other union groups remained opposed to the re-negotiated agreement.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Black Earth), who succeeded Baldwin in Congress, was the only member of the Wisconsin congressional delegation to vote against it in the House of Representatives.

Congressman Mark Pocan
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan

While Pocan agreed that Democratic negotiators had “made this new deal better” with improved labor standards and enforcement mechanisms and by removing language extending pharmaceutical patents, he said in a statement after his vote that it didn’t go far enough.

“I cannot be confident that this trade deal would heal the wounds inflicted by NAFTA, including rampant outsourcing of American jobs, the closing of factories and manufacturing facilities across the country, and decades of harm to working and middle-class communities,” Pocan stated. “The deal also fails to take a once in a generation opportunity for North America to take bold, collective action to address the climate crisis that threatens the future of our entire planet.”

In a recent Wisconsin Examiner commentary, retired Wisconsin farmer Jim Goodman and University of San Francisco economist Anthony Pahnke also criticized the revised trade agreement’s labor and agriculture provisions as inadequate to protect worker rights or the interests of farmers while favoring agribusiness giants.

Baldwin’s statement endorsing the agreement focused on securing perceived gains for the state’s dairy industry, while it also served as a rebuff to the Trump administration’s use of trade-war tactics: tariffs on foreign goods that have triggered counter-tariffs and penalized American farmers and manufacturers.

“Going forward, President Trump needs to understand Wisconsin needs better trade deals, not trade wars,” Baldwin stated, “and that in order to stop the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs we not only need fair trade deals, our workers need tax reform that rewards their hard work and doesn’t encourage corporations to send their jobs to other countries.”

Erik Gunn
Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.