The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation, said Friday that the Trump administration had "listened to our ideas" on trade and was apparently pursuing them as part of the renegotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The federation made the comment after the Chamber of Commerce issued a stark warning Friday morning that it was "increasingly concerned" with the direction of the talks.
The dueling comments indicate the extent to which the Trump administration has upset the status quo in Washington by seeking far-reaching changes in the NAFTA renegotiation talks, the fourth round of which will begin Wednesday in Arlington, Va.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a major NAFTA critic, offered qualified praise for the administration's efforts and scorned the business lobby's reaction. "The U.S. Chamber's negative reaction to even discussing creative trade solutions reveals a lot about how much corporate CEOs benefit under the NAFTA status quo. We've been saying for years that business trade benefits should come in tandem with rising wages, safer jobs and better benefits for workers rather than at the expense of those things.
"We don't know if what the [U.S. Trade Representative] is putting on the table will create a level playing field for working people. What we do know is that current USTR Robert Lighthizer has engaged with labor and listened to our ideas. While we certainly don't agree on everything, we exchange views and seek common ground that will benefit all North American workers. We will fight against the Chamber continuing to push the same old broken trade rules that could keep a new NAFTA from being a trade agreement that benefits working people."
While President Trump has long been critical of the 1993 trade deal with Canada and Mexico, top administration officials such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross initially said their guiding principle would be to "do no harm," leading many business leaders to assume the administration would seek modest changes.
At a press conference Friday morning, the Chamber publicly aired major concerns regarding the direction the NAFTA talks were taking. John Murphy, the chamber's senior vice president for foreign policy, said the administration's continued pursuit of a sunset clause for NAFTA, a provision to allow member nations to opt of its dispute settlement system, and to change the rules for what constitutes a product made in the U.S., among other proposals, was arousing intense concern within business groups and the other nations.
"The vast majority of business groups oppose these provisions emphatically... The negotiations next week will be extremely difficult. These proposals will meet with resistance from Canada, Mexico and the business community," Murphy warned. He added that it could likely lead to the U.S. pulling out of the deal entirely, a threat Trump has repeatedly made. That would be disastrous for the economy, he warned.