In late July, several members of Greater Oak Park Democratic Socialists of America met with Ira Cohen, director of communications and issues for Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th District). We wanted to discuss the planned renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Ira shared an excellent op-ed by Rep. Davis, published in The Hill (May 25). Rep. Davis focused on re-establishing trust in the negotiation of trade deals, specifically mentioning the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system.

ISDS is a tribunal of corporate lawyers where disputes between corporate interests and sovereign governments are adjudicated. These tribunals circumvent U.S. courts. Multinational corporations take advantage of the ISDS system to sue sovereign governments, like ours, over environmental, health and other public interest protections. This triad of lawyers can order U.S. taxpayers to pay corporations unlimited sums of money, including for the loss of what they call expected future profits. Under NAFTA, there is no appealing to U.S. courts.

During the current round of negotiations, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office floated the idea of allowing ISDS to be voluntary, but U.S. corporations are balking.

This administration is going down the same rabbit hole used during the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). A U.S. trade representative told reporters that the negotiating text for NAFTA is “classified” and they do not plan to release it. Yet hundreds of corporate lobbyists have been given special “cleared adviser” status that gives them privileged access to proposed texts and to the negotiators themselves.

What became of making NAFTA better for working people? The U.S. will be celebrating Labor Day on Sept. 4. The renegotiation of NAFTA must include strong, binding and enforceable labor and environmental standards. These standards must be in place before the new pact is finalized.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has eight core conventions. These are legally binding international treaties. NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico have signed seven of the eight. The U.S. has only signed two of the core conventions: the abolition of forced labor and opposition to the worst forms of child labor. All eight ILO core conventions must be made part of any renegotiation of NAFTA.

In addition, all imported foods, goods and services must meet domestic safety, consumer-right-to-know and environmental rules. Nations’ rights to democratically establish domestic farm policies that ensure farmers are paid fairly for their crops and livestock. The public must have ongoing access to safe, affordable food.

We have to end rules that waive Buy American and Buy Local policies by eliminating NAFTA’s procurement chapter. We must remove terms that drive up the cost of life-saving medicines by giving pharmaceutical companies extended monopolies on drug patents.

To favor people and planet, democratize rather than privatize trade agreements. Rep. Davis, in his op-ed, focused on re-building trust in the negotiation of trade deals. What I’ve outlined above is a set of standards to earn the trust and support of working people at home and abroad. 

Rep. Davis, take the lead on building a more democratic future for the renegotiation of NAFTA and future trade agreements. I urge you to issue a statement committing to voting No on NAFTA if ISDS is included in the agreement.

Tom Broderick is a member of the Greater Oak Park Democratic Socialists of America and a resident of Oak Park.

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