By Anna Daniels / San Diego Free Press
“In 1993, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was sold to the American public with grand promises. NAFTA would create tens of thousands of good jobs here. U.S. farmers would export their way to wealth. NAFTA would bring Mexico’s standard of living up, providing new economic opportunities there that would reduce immigration to the United States.” Public Citizen NAFTA’s Broken Promises 1994-2013
On January 1, 1994, a trilateral free trade zone was established in North America. This treaty with the United States, Mexico and Canada resulted in the mass relocation of factories and capital south of the Mexican border. Then President Bill Clinton asserted that NAFTA was going to “promote more growth, more equality and better preservation of the environment and a greater possibility of world peace.”
The lived experience on both sides of the US-Mexican border has fallen far short of Clinton’s encomiums. Whole cities and towns were hollowed out when over 700,000 US jobs, many of them decent paying manufacturing jobs, were re-constituted in maquiladoras south of the border where wages were lower and regulations were laxer. In Mexico, NAFTA agribusinesses raising corn for ethanol displaced farmers raising corn to feed the people, creating a food crisis that further immiserated the poor there.
What NAFTA did do was grease the corporate skids for WalMart and the Walmarting of the labor force in both countries. NAFTA has been very good for foreign investors. It has resulted in growing inequality and wage stagnation for the poor and struggling middle class in both the US and Mexico as well as environmental degradation.
While the United States is currently negotiating a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)that lacks transparency and provides enormous corporate giveaways and protections, fifty-three percent of Americans now believe the United States should “do whatever is necessary” to “renegotiate” or “leave” NAFTA. Yet once again citizens are being hoodwinked into believing that an awesome number of jobs will be created and the standard of living will rise, all without adverse environmental impacts by the TPP.
Citizens should resist being duped again into thinking they are going to be winners with the TPP, which is referred to as NAFTA on steroids.
After nineteen years of NAFTA, we can measure its actual outcomes. The grand promises made by proponents remain unfulfilled. Many outcomes are exactly the opposite of what was promised. Many U.S. firms used the new investor protections to relocate production to Mexico to take advantage of its low wages and weak environmental standards and to attack NAFTA countries’ environmental and health laws in foreign tribunals. Over $340 million in compensation to investors has been extracted from NAFTA governments via these “investor-state” challenges. Public Citizen
A few days ago, a group of artists planted twenty flags at Border Field State Park, “A Future Memorial for NAFTA” as a poetic resistance to extraction capitalism.
A Future Memorial for NAFTA
During the presidential primary in 2008, then Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton critiqued NAFTA in one of their debates. Neither seriously considered pulling the US out of the treaty, but both called for renegotiating the treaty in order to provide relief to American workers. There has clearly been no renegotiation, even though NAFTA exists as an executive order which gives discretion to the executive branch, including over turning Bill Cinton’s previous executive order. President Obama is moving ahead on the TPP instead.
Noam Chomsky describes the danger of these types of trade agreements–”[They] override the rights of workers, consumers, and the future generations who cannot “vote” in the market on environmental issues. They help keep the public “in its place.” These are not necessary features of such agreements, but they are natural consequences of the great successes of the past years in reducing democracy to empty forms…”
NAFTA is twenty years old and the reduction of democracy to empty forms continues.