Detroit — The North American Free Trade Agreement “is going to blow up in 2018.”
That blunt assessment comes from the equally blunt Jerry Dias, president of the Canadian union Unifor, which represents workers in a range of the country's largest industrial sectors.
Dias has long been a harsh critic of NAFTA. He says it has been disastrous for Canadian and U.S. manufacturing workers — on that much, he and President Donald Trump agree. And it hasn't done much for Mexican workers, whose low wages and weak labor rights prevent them from being able to afford the vehicles they build, he said.
While there have been some exceptions, for the most part representatives for the plastics industry have expressed support for NAFTA during hearings in 2017.
The Washington-based American Chemistry Council, for example, said NAFTA and free trade deals in general are key for the plastics industry to fully realize export benefits from the shale gas boom.
In testimony June 28, an ACC executive said NAFTA has created a deep and cost effective economic integration of supply chains between the three countries — trade within the same or closely related companies makes up 50 percent of U.S. chemical exports and 70 percent of chemical imports.
Dias, for his part, would prefer to see NAFTA not scrapped, but strengthened with better wage and labor standards for Mexicans that would make Canadian manufacturing a more competitive proposition and help stem the southward migration of jobs.
Many private-sector interests still hold out hope that the Trump administration's hard-line positions are simply negotiating tactics that will lead to a compromise, or that Congress will block attempts to unwind a deal that has helped increase U.S. manufacturing exports by 258 percent since its inception.
But given where the talks stand now, Dias said, that won't happen.
“I'm convinced that unless Donald Trump folds, which he won't, then NAFTA is gone,” Dias said during a nearly 90-minute editorial board meeting with Automotive News. AN is a sister publication of Plastics News.
If that happens, Dias said, a pre-existing U.S.-Canada free-trade agreement will live on.
Dias said that while he's not at the negotiating table, he has a close-up view of the proceedings. He is among a group of stakeholders consulting with Canadian officials on the pact and has had multiple meetings with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, chief negotiator Steve Verheul and other Canadian officials, as well as U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.