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02.27.04
Politics and Economy:
Criminalizing Dissent?
More on This Story:
Update: NAFTA, Job Migration, and the FTAA

As the North American Free Trade Agreement celebrated its tenth anniversary on January 1, 2004, evaluations of its strengths and weaknesses in practice were published by various groups interested in NAFTA's impact on the economies of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The assessments ranged from strongly favorable to highly critical.

Arguments for and against NAFTA played a large part in recent revisions of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), an effort intended to progressively eliminate barriers to trade and investment across all the Americas. At their eighth meeting, which took place in Miami on November 20, 2003, 34 trade ministers from countries across the Americas reiterated their commitment to the Free Trade Area of the Americas and set forth a vision of the FTAA as follows:

“We, the Ministers, reaffirm our commitment to the successful conclusion of the FTAA negotiations by January 2005, with the ultimate goal of achieving an area of free trade and regional integration. The Ministers reaffirm their commitment to a comprehensive and balanced FTAA that will most effectively foster economic growth, the reduction of poverty, development, and integration through trade liberalization. Ministers also recognize the need for flexibility to take into account the needs and sensitivities of all FTAA partners.

We are mindful that negotiations must aim at a balanced agreement that addresses the issue of differences in the levels of development and size of economies of the hemisphere, through various provisions and mechanisms.

Taking into account and acknowledging existing mandates, Ministers recognize that countries may assume different levels of commitments. We will seek to develop a common and balanced set of rights and obligations applicable to all countries. In addition, negotiations should allow for countries that so choose, within the FTAA, to agree to additional obligations and benefits. One possible course of action would be for these countries to conduct plurilateral negotiations within the FTAA to define the obligations in the respective individual areas.

We fully expect that this endeavor will result in an appropriate balance of rights and obligations where countries reap the benefits of their respective commitments.”

The third, and latest, draft of the FTAA Agreement is available on the official Free Trade Area of the Americas Web site. The next meeting of Ministers of Trade is planned to take place in Brazil in 2004.

Not everyone is convinced that the FTAA would be good for the United States, as covered in NOW's "Criminalizing Dissent?" During the last round of negotiations in Miami, protestors voiced their opinions on how NAFTA did not deliver promised improvements in America. One of their loudest complaints: job losses across the country in all sectors. Read more about it below. Also, see NOW's full list of articles on trade issues and learn more about the globalization debate and some of its players.


NAFTA in Perspective

The official report issued by the United States Trade Representative, Canada's Minister for International Trade, and Mexico's Secretary of the Economy, "NAFTA: A Decade of Strengthening a Dynamic Relationship," boasts that NAFTA is "an example of the benefits that all countries could derive from moving forward with multilateral trade liberalization." Creating the world's largest free trade area, the goal of NAFTA was to provide for "freer flow of goods, services and investment" and integrated economies. In difficult economic times, however, many critics of NAFTA claim that free trade is responsible for negative effects on job markets and overall economic stability.

While the USTR reports on the positive statistic that "total trade among the three NAFTA countries has more than doubled, passing from US$306 billion in 1993 to almost US $621 billion in 2002," the Economic Policy Institute has found that "between 1994 and 2000, the U.S. lost more than 3 million jobs and job opportunities—equal to 2.3% of the labor force." Read state by state reports from Jobs with Justice on job losses attributed to NAFTA.

A new study from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "NAFTA'S PROMISE AND REALITY: Lessons from Mexico for the Hemisphere," finds that NAFTA "has been neither the disaster its opponents predicted, nor the savior hailed by its supporters." A review of the report in the NEW YORK TIMES explains that the CEIP study "concludes that the pact failed to generate substantial job growth in Mexico, hurt hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers there and had 'miniscule' net effects on jobs in the United States."

In the United States, job losses associated with the trade deficit increased six times more rapidly between 1994 and 2000 than they did between 1989 and 1994, according to figures from the Economic Policy Institute. Even critics of NAFTA acknowlege that these statistics cannot be directly attributed to NAFTA. The EPI paper does not condemn further trade liberalization: "There is no doubt that, in the long run, a system of both freer trade and fair trade which ensures that all participants play by a well-definied set of humane, market-based rules can maximize incomes for most, if not all, countries around the world.... Existing trade agreements should be repaired and rebuilt before moving ahead with another round of broad, new trade details."

Sources: UNITED STATES TRADE REPRESENTATIVE; ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE; NAFTA SECRETARIAT

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