US President Donald Trump has called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which succeeds NAFTA, “the single greatest agreement ever signed.” In reality, it is not as good as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump withdrew the US upon taking office, nor is it particularly better than the agreement it replaced.
Of course, this is Trump’s modus operandi: threaten to do something catastrophic, so people are relieved when things get only a little bit worse. That is what he did with North Korea, when he insulted its leader, Kim Jong-un, and threatened to rain down “fire and fury” on the country. Compared to nuclear conflict, his eventual meeting with Kim seemed like a triumph, even though it produced little actual progress.
.. Trump’s own mischaracterization of that meeting’s outcome – the problem of a nuclear-armed North Korea, he falsely asserted, had been “solved” – is another standard Trump tactic. He callsthe USMCA “the single greatest agreement ever signed.” For Trump, all NAFTA really needed was a new name – one that, as Eswar Prasad points out, literally puts “America First” – to enable him to pretend for his supporters that he achieved something positive.
..The first change is the introduction of two measures pertaining to the auto industry. The agreement requires that, to avoid tariffs, 75% of an automobile’s content originate within North America
.. This will bring some benefits to some American autoworkers, at the expense of everybody else. Not only will consumers face higher costs for autos; the disruption of existing efficient supply chains may even leave the US auto industry as a whole worse off, as it undermines the international competitiveness of North American output.
.. But this concession, the equivalent of 0.00003% of US total exports, will have no discernible impact on the US trade balance. Trump cannot truthfully claim a victory relative to the status quo he inherited – even to his mercantilist supporters. In fact, Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had managed to wrest similar dairy concessions from Canada in 2015 as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which Trump withdrew the US immediately upon taking office.
.. Overall, the TPP would have been better than the USMCA
.. in the USMCA negotiations, the US agreed to give Canada increased access to its own dairy market, as well as to two of its other most highly protected agricultural areas: peanuts (and processed peanut products) and sugar
.. The third feature of the USMCA that has drawn the most attention relates to dispute-settlement mechanisms.
.. The fourth notable change in the USMCA is the introduction of a sunset clause.
.. the USMCA must be renewed every 16 years. One hopes that future reviews will take place at times when more sensible leaders are in charge, and perhaps will eliminate the automatic sunset clause.
.. Ultimately, the rebranded NAFTA is a step in the direction of the TPP that Trump so reviled. It is not as good as the TPP, nor is it an overall improvement over NAFTA. But it is better than blowing up trade in North America.