President Donald Trump was praised by some of the top unions Monday for changing course on how the country approaches international trade.
Trump has had a highly contentious relationship with unions since he first launched his campaign. His opposition to the national trade agenda was one of the few policy areas they agreed on. Some labor unions applauded the president for his decision to withdraw support from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“President Trump made good on his campaign promise to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa said. “With this decision, the president has taken the first step toward fixing 30 years of bad trade policies that have cost working Americans millions of good-paying jobs.”
Congress had delayed holding a final vote on the trade deal prompting some to believe it was already dead. It had drawn fierce criticism and became a main talking point during the campaign. Trump also plans to reopen negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into force in 1994.
“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,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said. “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.”
Trump built his campaign on the promise that he would help domestic workers. The president has argued the current approach to trade and immigration has allowed companies to undercut workers with cheap foreign labor. He pledged to withdraw or renegotiate from trade agreements so they better serve American workers.
“Millions of working men and women saw their jobs leave the country as free trade policies undermined our manufacturing industry,” Hoffa said. “We take this development as a positive sign that President Trump will continue to fulfill his campaign promises in regard to trade policy reform.”
The TPP would have been the largest regional trade deal in history with its inclusion of countries that produce roughly 39 percent of global GDP. Former President Barack Obama found himself at odds with many in his own party for negotiating the deal. Labor unions have contested the trade deal is designed to enrich corporations and other special interests at the expense of workers.
“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,” Trumka also said.
The deal was designed to unite the partner countries under a uniform set of trade rules. It would have gradually ended thousands of import tariffs and other international trade barriers. It would also establish rules for intellectual property rights, environment protections, and open Internet access.
The Obama White House had argued the trade deal would actually help workers despite what critics claim. It will cover a few countries known for notorious labor and human rights violations, like Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. The former administration also said it would help fix many problems NAFTA caused.
Labor unions have tried numerous methods to fight the trade deal. They have held rallies and launched several media campaigns. Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice was even the target of an attack ad in June 2015 for breaking with the rest of her party to support it.