WASHINGTON — A group of House Democrats called on the Trump administration Wednesday to push for eliminating a provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement that they said allows corporations to ship jobs overseas and undermines American sovereignty.
Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Debbie Dingell of Michigan urged President Donald Trump to tell U.S. officials involved in the NAFTA renegotiation talks to back up his campaign criticisms of trade deals by removing the investor-state dispute settlement provision.
At a news conference, the Democrats stood behind waist-high stacks of dozens of boxes that contained over 400,000 petitions signed by Americans calling for the removal of the ISDS, which allows corporations to sue countries for alleged discriminatory practices, with outcomes determined by panels of private corporate attorneys.
On a factsheet posted on its website, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, which develops trade policy and conducts trade negotiations, defended the ISDS provisions, saying that the U.S. has never lost a case and that the provisions helped safeguard U.S. investors abroad.
“ISDS ensures that American businesses and investors do not face discrimination, nationalization, or abuse when doing business abroad,” the website said.
DeLauro disagreed, saying ISDS provisions “encourage large corporations to outsource good paying jobs.”
Ellison cited an instance in which the U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris International sued Uruguay for requiring warning labels on all tobacco products, a legal dispute that he said Uruguay likely would have lost if not for outside help from businessman Michael Bloomberg.
Ellison said countries shouldn’t have to “rely on billionaires” to win such disputes.
Simon Lester, a trade policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, agreed with Ellison that ISDS should be removed, but for different reasons than the Democrats.
“My concern is that it mucks up free trade agreements with no demonstrable economic value,” Lester said in an interview. “It just adds an unnecessary layer of controversy because it looks like a free corporate giveaway.”
A spokesman for House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Rod Frelinghuysen, a Republican, had no immediate comment on the GOP reaction to the proposal to eliminate ISDS.
Most of the Democrats at Wednesday’s news conference represented states with large manufacturing industries, which they said were particularly hurt by NAFTA.
“My home is Michigan, and we have lost too many jobs since NAFTA was passed,” said Dingell. “Factories are empty.”