Donald Trump Tears Down Old Right-Left Divide On Free Trade

Trump's vow to end NAFTA and bring back factories to the U.S. isn't typical right-wing ideology. Or is it that we've misunderstood the purpose of ideology?

Crossing from Los Ebanos, Texas to Ciudad Diaz Ordaz, Mexico
Crossing from Los Ebanos, Texas to Ciudad Diaz Ordaz, Mexico
Rodolfo Terragno


BUENOS AIRES — What is good for the United States is not always bad for Latin America. This is in part because no one thing is good for every sector in a country. What makes importers rich in a nation, for example, may impoverish exporters.

American conservatives believe that the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a deal between the U.S. and Mexico, would "de-industrialize" the U.S. and destroy its job market. They said that the agreement, which brings the two countries into a single market, would only favor Mexico by boosting the southern country's GDP and employment rate. They predicted the deal would enrich large U.S. corporations by allowing them to cheaply make their products in Mexico, which they could later sell for much higher prices in the U.S. This is possible because Mexican labor in U.S. dollar terms is very low.

So the U.S. right-wing was opposed to big companies it was supposed to represent in politics. In Mexico and throughout Latin America, the Left saw NAFTA differently. It denounced it as a North American colonial project that would turn Mexico into a commercial foothold, and not unlike a U.S. military base. The Left believes that companies would exploit Mexican workers and take their profits elsewhere, leaving nothing behind for Mexico.

At the same time, the Left thought that the U.S. right-wing's opposition to NAFTA was just rhetoric, merely intended to punish the Democratic administration of former president Bill Clinton, the architect of the deal.

President Donald J. Trump now proves otherwise. The opposition of the right-wing, of which he is a member, was genuine. Trump wants to "close shop" next door as a first step to achieve what he calls the economic independence of the U.S. He said that NAFTA was for the U.S. the "worst trade agreement in history."

And it's not just talk this time. Before taking office he began threatening U.S. car companies operating in Mexico with 35% taxes on cars they might bring into the U.S. from Mexico. He was particularly harsh on Ford, saying it was "an absolute disgrace" that Ford, a household name in the U.S., would take American jobs to Mexico. Bearing in mind that Trump's party controls both chambers of Congress, Ford for now cancelled a $1.6 billion investment in Mexico's San Luis Potosí. It will instead invest $700 million in Flat Rock, Michigan.

Trump signing executive orders, including one to pull U.S. out of TPP trade pact — Photo: White House

Trump used similar threats against General Motors, which exported nearly 500,000 vehicles from Mexico to the U.S. in an 11-month period in 2016. The company does not look like it is about to move from Mexico. Should it decide for good not to move back home, it may prompt the first clash between a conservative U.S. administration and a big corporation.

Mexico is rightly worried. The country is the world's eighth largest exporter of cars, trucks and car parts. The automobile industry there contributes to 18% of Mexico's manufacturing GDP (6% of all GDP), and employs 875,000 people. This was all thanks to the market created by NAFTA, which Trump wants to end — 72% of cars made in Mexico go to the U.S.

Trump's stand shows that ideologies are not static and can change with circumstances. Two decades ago, European social-democracy adopted privatization and spending cuts. Now, the right-wing in the U.S. is turning conservative ideology upside down.

You would assume a Republican government would defend the free market, work with big companies and promote exports. Yet, assuming he will run his presidency the way he talks, Trump would attack the free market, pursue state intervention in the economy, confront corporations and trumpet nationalism. In terms of the means if not the objective, the new U.S. president seems more left-wing than Right. Trump's economic policy of confronting multinational companies and making the U.S economically independent are similar to the discourse of progressive forces in Latin America.

Instruments can, after all, be used one way or another. Progressive forces have confused the means with the end throughout history. Ideology has to do with objectives whether it's wealth distribution, as is the case with the Left, or wealth accumulation that's propagated by the Right. Ideology is not about the means to these objectives.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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