In 1994, Congress passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), establishing a template for free trade deals that was neither free nor fair. While North American trade tripled and corporations profited under NAFTA, the costs were borne by manufacturing workers across the U.S. and Mexico, smallholder corn farmers, and our environmental commonwealth. These trade consequences contributed to migration to the U.S.
The dirty secret about free trade agreements is that much of the content has little to do with trade. They serve to maximize corporate profits by pressuring countries to weaken or jettison domestic laws that serve the common good—such as public health, financial, and environmental regulations—to make room for policies that serve corporate interests and economic superpowers. Corporations and other nations can sue for perceived “unfair treatment,” which often costs taxpayers millions or billions of dollars and results in a regulatory chilling effect. With hundreds of U.S. government-approved industry trade advisers at the negotiating table—and few civil society representatives—is this any surprise?