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Cracks Emerging in NAFTA

By       Message shamus cooke     Permalink
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The once-solid North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) is starting to show its age. The 1994 trade agreement that laid the foundation for the economic/political integration of North America is encountering serious internal ruptures, threatening future "progress."

The problems are numerous: fights over trade, immigration, and military cooperation are all issues that Obama recently discussed in Mexico with his NAFTA partners, Mexico and Canada. The annual meeting that usually delivers plans for additional integration was instead used to remedy these heated issues, none of which were fully solved.

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Both Mexico and Canada are angry with the U.S. for the "buy American" provision in Obama's stimulus bill, which they label correctly as "protectionist." The bill is explicit that many of the raw materials used in construction projects must be bought from U.S. corporations only, in violation of NAFTA. Mexico soon retaliated with taxes (tariffs) on dozens of U.S. goods entering Mexico, a spat that was hoped to have been solved with Obama's visit.

Other conflicts involve immigration "" between all three countries "" and the transportation of goods.

Although NAFTA was written with U.S. corporations first in mind, many of them have been out-competed by companies in Canada or Mexico. It was these U.S. corporations that pressured Obama into promising to "re-negotiate" NAFTA.

A danger for U.S. workers, however, is to think that any re-negotiation of NAFTA is intended to help them. Some "fair trade" and anti-free-trade groups "" many with connections to labor unions "" used Obama's promise to re-negotiate NAFTA as proof that he should be supported. Since being elected, EVERY significant policy implemented under Obama has been anti-worker "" bank bailouts, wars, killing EFCA, etc. The issue of "trade" will not be a progressive exception.

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This is because being "against free-trade" is not automatically progressive. The many U.S. corporations that hope to re-negotiate NAFTA to shut-out foreign competitors should not be admired for their actions. They are for the opposite of free-trade, protectionism, and instead of looking for low wages and poor working conditions abroad, seek to further implement them in the U.S.

Some of these companies have codified their intentions in the TRADE Act, a U.S. congressional bill yet to be passed. Although the TRADE Act has a number of progressive statements concerning worker and environmental standards, it immediately contradicts itself by advocating specific pro-corporate polices, including: assessing how NAFTA has affected the "competitiveness" of U.S. corporations; "protecting intellectual property rights," protecting the "right to hold clear title to property" (for mega-corporations abroad); and wording that protects the "investments" of trans-national corporations and rich investors. This is the real reason that many Democrats feel compelled to pass the bill.

Many Canadian and Mexican corporations are similarly miffed by NAFTA, threatening the plans of some corporations "" the best market competitors "" to further unify North America. These ideas find expression in the North American Union, a think tank plan to essentially turn the NAFTA countries into one nation, or at least to erase specific economic/political boundaries similar to what has happened in the European Union.

Tension between feuding corporations, however, will keep the North American Union purely theoretical. Similar corporate conflicts are threatening further unification of the European Union, while also driving the World Trade Organization into an indefinite coma.

The New World Order that many are predicting will emerge through agreements with various governments and international mega-corporations to exploit the world's labor force and resources "" using a common currency, military, etc. "" is unlikely to materialize.

Internationally, conflicts between nations are on the rise; the world political situation has not been this tenuous for decades, with the threat of further regional wars being obvious (for example, in Pakistan, Iran, Israel, Georgia, and the U.S. meddling in Latin America, etc.).

The world recession is further exacerbating these tensions, driving governments to off-load the economic crisis affecting their native corporations onto other governments through currency manipulation, state subsidies (bailouts, stimulus plans), tariffs (protectionism), etc.

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The New World Order theory is not new "" long-ago referred to as "Ultra-Imperialism," a theory that took World War I to disprove. The corporations directing government policy in various nations cannot agree to live peacefully together; the bigger ones use their markets and military advantages to drive up profits at the expense of the smaller corporations residing in weaker countries. Capitalism is organically competitive and vicious, not cooperative.

Another guarantee against New World Order integration is the phenomena of nationalism. The deeper the recession becomes, the more nationalistic/patriotic our government officials act. They will blame foreign countries and immigrants for the country's problems, but never the corporations inside their countries. Nationalistic sentiments were in part what led to disagreements at the recent NAFTA summit.

One point of agreement, however, was the militarization of Mexico. The billion plus dollars that the U.S. has given Mexico under "Plan Mexico" to beef up "border security" and wage a "drug war," has thus far "led to more than 12,000 drug-related deaths, hundreds of allegations of human-rights violations against the military"" (Washington Post, August 9, 2009).

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Shamus Cooke is a social service worker and activist living in Portland Oregon.

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