Twenty years ago, on Jan. 1, 1994, a trade deal championed by
Democratic President Bill Clinton went into effect. The North American
Free Trade Agreement was meant to integrate the economies of the United
States, Canada and Mexico by breaking down trade barriers between them,
creating jobs and closing the wage gap between the U.S. and Mexico.
What in fact happened under NAFTA was that heavily subsidized U.S.
corn flooded the Mexican market, putting millions of farmers out of
work. Multinational corporations opened up factories creating low-wage
jobs at the expense of organized labor and the environment. This, in
turn, drove waves of migration north.
Meanwhile, corporate profits soared, and Mexico boasted the richest
man in the world, Carlos Slim. Walmart and Krispy Kreme conquered
Mexico, and ordinary Mexicans had access to the same consumer goods as
their neighbors to the north. The economies of all three nations,
measured only by GDP rather than jobs or wages, were pronounced grand
successes, even though the U.S. and Canada disproportionately reaped more financial benefits.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., manufacturing jobs fell dramatically and
organized labor lost even more clout. The Great Recession of 2008
worsened the downward trend, especially for Mexicans. Mexico’s economy,
tied intimately to the U.S.’ because of NAFTA, suffered more than any
other country in Latin America.
on NAFTA’s anniversary point out that as a result of the free trade
agreement, Mexicans today can buy designer sneakers or iPhones. Manuel
Perez-Rocha, an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in
Washington, D.C., and a Mexican national, told me in an interview,
“This is a new spin—praising the riches of consumerism. All these new
analyses about how Mexico is becoming a more middle-class society and
able to buy more products from the United States—it’s just baloney.
According to official statistics from Mexico, most Mexicans are poor and
belong to the lower class, and this is the reason why there has been so
much migration to the United States.”