Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 4, 2004
Forum questions NAFTA success
Free trade not the bonus gov't claims it is, say speakers
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
According to Canada's foreign affairs department, the 10-year-old legacy of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is one of economic growth and rising standards of living for people in Canada, the United States and Mexico.
"The verdict is clear," said the department of foreign affairs and international trade of the trade deal launched in January 1994. "It has been a great success for Canada and its North American partners, and we are committed to ensuring that it continues to help us to realize the full potential of a more integrated and efficient North American economy."
But there are many in the three countries who strongly disagree with the "verdict," including speakers at a public forum in Ottawa Sept. 21 sponsored by Common Frontiers, an organization comprised of human rights, labour, humanitarian and Church organizations, including KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives.
Third World in Canada
"Since the signing of the first trade agreement, we have created a Third World in Canada," said Maude Barlow, national chair of the Council of Canadians. "We had the largest rise in child poverty in the industrial world. Gone are family allowance, gone is the Canada Assistance Plan, which was the national standard for social assistance. Gone are the standards on unemployment insurance."
Barlow also told the gathering that Canada's health care system has been under assault both from under-funding - "which is the massive right-wing push to end what's left of our health care system" - and public-private health care partnerships.
In Mexico, large corporations have been the real beneficiaries of NAFTA, said Alejandro Villamar Calderon, a founding member of the Hemispheric Social Alliance and a noted analyst on free trade negotiations and agreements.
"Everybody knows there is more and more inequality, not only in Mexico, but also within our three countries," he said.
Productivity has increased in Mexico but salaries have decreased, he said. "The social fabric has been deteriorating throughout those years," said Villamar. Calling it a "paradox," he said the main resource in Mexico is money sent by Mexicans working in Canada and the U.S. "Officially those sums total $40 billion a year, but the national migrants' organization believe that the sum is twice as much."
In fact, there is more money coming into Mexico from the Mexican workers outside the country than from the revenue from oil exported by his country, Villamar said. "So, the 'success' of NAFTA is that it has been exporting manpower. Now we have a country that lives from the salaries from those workers who have been exported."
2.5 million job loss in U.S.
Americans were promised that NAFTA would create jobs in the U.S. and that it was going to be a great boon for the job industry, said Alexandra Spieldoch, an American who is co-director of the Gender Trade and Development Project. "But actually there's been almost 2.5 million jobs lost in the manufacturing sector alone."
It is called "free trade" but there is nothing "free" about it, said, Dorval Brunelle, a professor in the sociology department at the University of Quebec in Montreal. "NAFTA is basically a charter of rights and freedom for investors."
At a news conference on Parliament Hill earlier in the day about NAFTA, a Mexican parliamentarian called on Canada to review the trade agreement.
Federal Deputy Victor Suarez Carrera noted that Canada is the last of the three NAFTA countries to consider reviewing the agreement.
"It makes good sense for Canada to join the U.S. and Mexico in a thorough review of NAFTA," he said. "The Mexican experience with this trade agreement is one of devastation in the rural areas and an exodus of farmers to the big cities. We have lost many of our better-paying industrial jobs as more and more people are reduced to scraping out a living on the streets."
Common Frontiers, the Canadian network that sponsored Suarez's trip to Ottawa, said it hopes Canada's opposition parties will be successful in putting a NAFTA review process on the federal legislative agenda during this coming session of Parliament.