LAREDO, Texas – Congressman Henry Cuellar was quick to criticize President Trump’s decision Monday to sign an executive order that withdraws the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“It is a lack of leadership from the U.S. to get away from the world economy,” Cuellar told the Rio Grande Guardian. “We can compete with anybody (and) if we don’t take the leadership, either China or Russia will take that leadership.”
The TPP trade agreement included 12 countries, besides the United States, but the U.S. Congress didn’t have the chance to ratify it. Those who defend TPP, like Cuellar, say the idea was to have access to different markets, with transparency in the trading relationships between countries.
“In my opinion (the withdrawal) is wrong. We should be able to compete with any country,” Cuellar said. “I believe in trade, fair trade and free trade, but we need to talk about how do we make it better.”
Richard N. Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, was also critical of Trump’s decision to pull out of TPP.
“You don’t get to vote on globalization. Trade is vehicle to vent fears and frustrations. But opposing trade hurts many workers and all consumers,” Haass said in one tweet. In another he opined: “TPP decision will add to world disarray. Free trade has long been pillar of global order and policy shift raises question of U.S. reliability.”
Supporters of TPP see it as a bulwark against China, a way for the U.S. to establish stronger trading relations with countries as diverse as Canada, Mexico, Chile, Australia and Japan. It was President Obama’s signature trade deal. However, it was strongly opposed by unions in the U.S.
Trump met a group of union leaders at the White House on Monday. When he announced that he had just terminated the pact, they broke into applause.
“We’re going to stop the ridiculous trade deals that have taken everybody out of our country and taken companies out of our country, and it’s going to be reversed,” Mr. Trump told the union leaders. He signaled that in future he would only sign trade deals with individual countries.
“I think you’re going to have a lot of companies come back to our country,” Trump predicted.
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka issued this statement on Trump’s executive order: “Last year, a powerful coalition of labor, environmental, consumer, public health and allied groups came together to stop the TPP. Today’s announcement that the U.S. is withdrawing from TPP and seeking a reopening of NAFTA is an important first step toward a trade policy that works for working people. While these are necessary actions, they aren’t enough. They are just the first in a series of necessary policy changes required to build a fair and just global economy. We will continue our relentless campaign to create new trade and economic rules that end special privileges for foreign investors and Big Pharma, protect our planet’s precious natural resources and ensure fair pay, safe conditions and a voice in the workplace for all workers.”
Implications for NAFTA
Asked what the decision to pull out of TPP might mean for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, Congressman Cuellar pointed out that Congress will have some say on NAFTA.
“That’s the biggest difference between the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the TPP. NAFTA was passed by Congress, both the House and Senate, but TPP never got to that point. So, the President has a lot more say-so on TPP than on NAFTA. With TPP, he (Trump) can withdraw if he wants to, and then that’s it. Congress doesn’t have anything to do after that.”
But, if NAFTA is renegotiated, the issue will go back to Congress, and its members will vote on those changes, Cuellar explained.
“I am hoping that Trump is playing a role of a businessman where he is negotiating high about the withdrawal, but then he will talk to those countries to make some changes, and then after he makes those changes we can come back,” Cuellar added.
Businessman Sam Vale, president of Starr-Camargo Bridge Company, agreed with Cuellar’s comments. Vale was in Washington, D.C., on Monday to participate in a summit on border business.
“The TPP would resolve most of the issues that Canada, Mexico and the U.S. have in NAFTA,” Vale said in a phone interview with the Rio Grande Guardian. “It is more important to work in modernizing the NAFTA agreement.”
Canada’s ambassador to the United States David MacNaughton, said recently that when it comes to NAFTA, “Canada is not really the problem.”
MacNaughton spoke to CTV National News and expressed “we’ve got a balanced trade with the United States of America. And I said right after the election we’re happy to talk about anything in NAFTA as long as it’s going to improve Canada’s economy and the United States’ economy. And I think that’s really what the focus is.”
But, Congressman Cuellar doesn’t think Trump is only targeting Mexico.
“I will caution my Canadian friends not to take that impression, it’s all three countries and they can’t take a position of ‘Oh, they are looking at Mexico and we are ready to do a bilateral agreement’. That is wrong,” Cuellar said regarding the ambassador’s comments.
Furthermore, Cuellar said everything will depend on how the U.S. sees Mexico.
“If we see Mexico as a threat, we will take the Trump approach, but if we see Mexico as a friend in so many ways, security, economy, then we will be able to negotiate in good faith and get something of worth for three countries,” he concluded.
Editor’s Note: Reporter Luis Montoya contributed to this story from McAllen, Texas.