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Negotiations Begin On Trump's Campaign Promise To Rework NAFTA


Today should be a big day for one of the president's core promises - fixing NAFTA. Negotiations start today to rework the 23-year-old trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. At yesterday's news conference, the president said companies are pouring back into the country. Trump also said he will use American steel to, quote, "make millions of American dreams come true." Leo Gerard knows a few things about American steel. He leads the United Steelworkers, the largest union for steelworkers. And he's on the line from Pittsburgh right now. Good morning.

LEO GERARD: Good morning.

CHANG: So are you pleased so far with the progress the president is making to bring more manufacturing jobs here?

GERARD: Show me the progress.

CHANG: (Laughter).

GERARD: You know that movie, show me the money? Well, show me the progress. There hasn't been any progress, in real terms. And in fact, since the president signed the executive order for the investigation on steel and aluminum, it appears that it stalled somewhere in the system. And as a result, the unfair - the traditionally unfair traders - the Chinese, the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Indians - the industry has been flooded with imports.

In fact, there was a 17 percent increase in imports into the U.S. since the signing of the executive order and 25 percent increase in the month of April. So the fact that the president hasn't taken action since we've signed that executive - since he signed that executive order has kicked the doors open for the unfair traders.

CHANG: We'll talk a bit about the steel industry just in a bit. But I wanted to ask you about something that happened yesterday. The United Steelworkers is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and that group's president, Richard Trumka, resigned yesterday from President Trump's council on manufacturing. Trumka said the president tolerates bigotry and that he resigned, quote, "on behalf of America's working people who reject all notions of legitimacy of these bigoted groups." What do you think? Can you work with President Trump, given all that's happened in the last few days?

GERARD: Well, in addition to what you just said that President Trumka said, he also pointed out that - as did others - that this manufacturing Council hasn't met, hasn't done anything. And in fact, there was informal meetings, and the labor movement was not included in those meetings. So Richard withdrew his support for both because of the president's actions with regards to the issues he raised, but also with regards to the fact that, after almost six months, there has been no action, no activity. And it would appear that it was a photo op. So we certainly support Rich Trumka's decision.

CHANG: Well, let's move from that council to NAFTA. A lot of economists say NAFTA has actually been a net gain for the United States - maybe not a huge boon but certainly not the disaster President Trump says it has been. What do you think? Has NAFTA helped steelworkers?

GERARD: Can you curse on NPR?

CHANG: (Laughter) I'm afraid not.

GERARD: OK, well, assume I have - that NAFTA has been a terrible disaster for working people from all three countries. It's been a trade deal that has resulted from going - almost a balanced trade agenda when it was passed to almost a $50 billion annual trade deficit with the United States. Canada and the U.S. still manage to be, from year to year, pretty close in sort of trade numbers. One year, one will have a deficit. One year the other will have - wages are about the same. But...

CHANG: Well, what would you change? What would you change about the agreement - for steelworkers?

GERARD: First of all, I would want to enforce labor rights in Mexico. Secondly, I'd want to stop what I call social dumping. Let me give you an example of what that is. Carrier, Carrier - with Carrier, we're taking furnaces made in Indiana, moving them to manufacturing to Mexico. So instead of paying $21 or $22 an hour, they're paying $3 or $3.50 an hour.


GERARD: And then they're going to sell those furnaces back into the U.S. They did that under NAFTA and what resulted in thousands of jobs...

CHANG: All right.

GERARD: ...And social dumping rather than - so there's so many areas where NAFTA is weak that there's lots of targets to fix it.

CHANG: That's Leo Gerard. He is the international president of the United Steelworkers. Thank you very much for joining us.

GERARD: You're welcome, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.