This past week, the president signed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) into law to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In Washington, big-moneyed special interests, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump all cheered the news.

As he signed the new deal, President Trump declared, “We are finally ending the NAFTA nightmare and signing into law the brand-new U..-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” claiming that the deal is “the largest, fairest, most balanced and modern trade agreement ever achieved. There’s never been anything like it.”

Rep. Jared Golden

Sadly, this trade deal is far from the inspiring reform that President Trump claims. It’s not “the largest,” and for many of the communities that are struggling economically today, it’s not the “most balanced.” The president claims that there has never been anything like it — except there has. It was called NAFTA.

Americans have heard these types of statements about trade deals before, just without the president’s trademark bombast. In 1994, President Clinton told us “NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying jobs.” As he signed that deal, he promised a million jobs in NAFTA’s first five years.

It’s true that some of those NAFTA jobs materialized, but for individual Americans, the most important questions that should have been asked were: What type of jobs? And where will they be created?

In order to have a more honest conversation about free trade deals, we must accept that a trade agreement can be good for some parts of the country but harmful for others. Tech hubs like Silicon Valley and finance sector cities like New York may gain significant wealth and access to foreign markets, while manufacturing in big states like Ohio or small states like Maine can suffer as they become more exposed to foreign competition.

Meanwhile, the benefits of the deal for the entire country, such as lower prices for imported goods made with cheap labor, are not enough to offset the harm to individual communities that have lost good-paying jobs as a result of this trade-off.

Since NAFTA was signed in 1994, Maine lost more than 32,000 jobs overall — about two out of every five — in its manufacturing sector. According to Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance statistics, outsourcing or trade were responsible for the loss of at least 26,000 of those jobs. It is no wonder then that for Maine, trade deals have become synonymous with shuttered mills and struggling rural communities where workers lost livelihoods, pensions, middle-class paychecks, and eventually lost future generations of workers who moved away in search of opportunities.

When President Trump said we should replace NAFTA with a deal that would bring manufacturing jobs back to America and protect the ones we have managed to keep, I agreed with him. Unfortunately, the USMCA won’t deliver on that promise. In deciding to oppose the USMCA, the International Association of Machinists, the largest union representing manufacturing workers in Maine, got it right when they said: “The outsourcing of U.S. jobs to Mexico will continue at an alarming rate under USMCA. This is not the renegotiated agreement that was promised to U.S. workers and their communities.”

When the USMCA was unveiled by the president, Sen. Chuck Grassley described it as 95 percent “the same as NAFTA.” The biggest winners of the USMCA are Silicon Valley tech companies, e-commerce giants like Amazon, and the same big agricultural firms that benefited from NAFTA. Except for the removal of sweetheart deals for pharmaceutical companies, the changes that Congress pushed for are minimal and will be difficult for America to enforce against Mexico and Canada.

The U.S. International Trade Commission, a nonpartisan federal agency, estimates the USMCA will increase U.S. gross domestic product by a minimal 0.35 percent and create 175,000 jobs over six years, barely more than the 164,000 created last December.

Over time, Mainers may see some lower prices from an increase in imports of cheap consumer goods, but in towns like Millinocket, Bucksport, and Madison, any new manufacturing jobs will happen despite the USMCA, not because of it.

The USMCA should go down in history for what it is — a status quo trade deal that doubles down on the same disastrous policies of the past few decades. The U.S. missed a major opportunity to chart a different course, one that truly lifts up workers and their families. Through the USMCA, NAFTA has been given an undeserved second act, but let me be clear: We should no longer accept these failed trade deals as the blueprint for our future.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden represents Maine’s 2nd District.

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