When it comes to U.S.-Mexico trade ties, Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, the leftist-populist presidential candidate, is more misguided and dishonest than President Donald Trump. And that’s saying a lot.
During Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary debate, Sanders — a front-runner in the polls for the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses — lashed out against the newly negotiated U.S.-Mexico-Canada North American free-trade agreement, USMCA. The trade deal could be ratified by the U.S. Senate this week.
“This deal will result in the continuation of the loss of hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs as a result of outsourcing,” Sanders said. He added that, “We have forced American workers to compete against people in Mexico, in China, elsewhere, who earn starvation wages, a dollar or two dollars an hour.”
Sanders’ claims about USMCA, the Trump-negotiated updated version of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, are wrong. His assertion that large numbers of U.S. jobs would be lost are as misguided as were Trump’s earlier complaints about NAFTA, and as misleading as Trump’s absurd claims that most undocumented immigrants from Mexico are criminals and rapists.
In fact, the USMCA trade deal would have a positive impact on the U.S. economy, according to a 2019 study by the bipartisan U.S. International Trade Commission.
The study says that it would raise the U.S. GDP by $68.2 billion and create 176,000 jobs. Many of the benefits would come from new provisions that set rules for digital trade, which barely existed at the time of the original agreement.
Also, the deal would set up new rules of origin for car manufacturers, which would increase autoworkers’ salaries in Mexico and increase the number of U.S. car industry workers. The AFL-CIO, the country’s largest umbrella organization for labor unions, has supported the USMCA.
Sanders also said during Tuesday’s debate that he will vote against ratification because, “Every major environmental organization has said no to this new trade agreement.”
It is true that the Sierra Group and League of Conservation Voters have asked for greater environmental protection clauses in the new trade deal. But many Democratic lawmakers say the new agreement is a significant improvement over its predecessor on environmental issues.
Fortunately, all other Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s debate — including left-of-center Sen. Elizabeth Warren — supported the USMCA agreement. Warren said the new trade deal “is a modest improvement” and “will give some relief to our workers.”
The best rebuttal to Sanders’ anti-free-trade debate rant came from Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She explained that, without importing low-cost parts from Mexico, U.S. factories will never be able to compete with China in world markets. U.S. exports would simply be too expensive for other countries to buy them.
“We need a big trading bloc with North America to take on China,” Klobuchar said. “And the way you are stronger [to compete with China] is with our allies.”
Sanders’ protectionist stand, which basically consists of blaming Mexico for U.S. job losses and workers’ stagnant salaries, is wrong for two additional reasons that failed to come up during the debate:
First, U.S. workers are not being displaced by Mexican immigrants, but mostly by automation. Robots at factories, digital tablets at fast-food restaurants and automatic cashiers at supermarkets are disrupting the labor market.
Second, it is in America’s best interest that Mexico’s economy grows. Without free trade, Mexico’s economy would be crippled, and illegal immigration to the United States would soar.
But Trump also fails to understand these factors and shamelessly omits them from his right-wing anti-immigration tirades.
The bottom line: A rising tide lifts all boats, and the USMCA deal would benefit all three North American economies. Sanders’ trade isolationism and Trump’s anti-immigration ravings are two sides of the same coin — cheap populism. On the trade side, Sanders is worse than Trump.