Trucks crossing border at Otay Mesa
Trucks crossing the border at Otay Mesa. Courtesy GSA

The best trade deal the United States has ever been part of was passed in 1993 and took effect on Jan. 1, 1994. It was the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Our partners in the pact were Mexico and Canada. 

While most experts consider NAFTA to have been generally good for all three countries, there were always critics, like then-congressmen Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey and Charles Schumer. Those men were stupid on trade with Mexico and NAFTA in 1993, and the years since have not made them any more intelligent.

They voted “no” on NAFTA and voted against trade again when President Trump’s signature USMCA agreement passed on Jan. 16.

The three generally agreed with Trump that the 25-year-old NAFTA was supposedly a “giant failure” negotiated by dunces that allowed jobs to disappear in the United States and reappear at low-wage factories in Mexico.

That view was as false then as it is now. American jobs are lost every day and most never reappear anywhere, much less in Mexico. 

The Senate voted 89 to 10 in favor of the pact that the House had already approved on a bi-partisan vote. The House was influenced by support for the new USMCA agreement by the AFL/CIO leadership that forgot its traditional antagonism about trade with foreign countries.

Only one of the 10 senators voting “no” is a Republican — Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. He is a free trade advocate who said USMCA wasn’t enough of an improvement on NAFTA.

The other nine are Democrats. While most Democrats opposed NAFTA in 1993, this time most voted the other way, despite ratification giving Trump a trade accomplishment.

Raoul Lowery Contreras

Many of those Democrats voting against USMCA are from small states without significant trade with Mexico. Hawaii counted only $1.1 million in trade with Mexico in 2018, and the state’s appointed senator, Brian Schatz, voted “no.” Likewise Sanders’ Vermont did only $45 million in trade with Mexico that year. 

Both Democrat senators from Rhode Island, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, voted “no,” and not surprisingly their tiny state’s trade with Mexico totaled only $198 million 2018.

Sen. Cory Booker, who flamed out in his run for the Democratic nomination, voted “no” despite New Jersey’s nearly $3 billion in trade with Mexico in 2018. 

Massachusetts’ Markey cast another “no” vote against North American trade, as he did in 1993, despite his state’s $2.5 billion in trade with our southern neighbor.

The two Democratic senators from New York, failed presidential candidate Kristen Gillibrand and the Senate Minority Leader Schumer, both voted “no” despite the Empire State’s trade with Mexico reaching a respectable $3.5 billion in 2018.

Those nine were joined by one senator from a trade powerhouse. California exported $30 billion to Mexico in 2018. Nevertheless, Kamala Harris voted against USMCA.

Harris should have noted that both Texas Senators, Republicans John Cronyn and Ted Cruz, voted for USMCA. That’s because Texas exported $110 billion worth of goods to Mexico in 2018.

If anyone needs an explanation why Harris flopped in her race for the Democratic nomination, one need only look at her “no” vote on USMCA when billions of dollars in California trade and millions of jobs were at risk. Her vote reflected a serious misunderstanding of what was at stake for her own state.

Californian’s will not be shocked in 2024 when her opponent for reelection pounds her about that “no” vote on robust trade with Mexico.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a Marine Corps veteran, political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.

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