Will Obama keep NAFTA promise?


by Ben Lilliston • Last week, on January 1, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) celebrated its 15th anniversary. You weren’t invited to the party? Don’t feel left out: neither were most U.S., Mexican and Canadian citizens. Over the last 15 years, NAFTA has become short-hand for a disastrous U.S. free trade agenda that has trampled over workers, farmers, consumers and the environment.

Will we see a change in U.S. trade policy in 2009? During last year’s election, President-elect Barack Obama pledged to “amend the North American Free Trade Agreement.” According to the < a href="http://www.barackobama.com/issues/economy/#trade" target="_blank">campaign’s Web site, “Obama and Biden believe NAFTA and its potential were oversold to the American people.”

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

Earlier today, 60 civil society organizations (including IATP) < a href="http://art-us.org/node/401" target="_blank">sent a letter to Obama urging him to follow through on his promise to renegotiate NAFTA. The letter prioritized ten areas for renegotiation: agriculture, energy, foreign investment, financial services, the state and services, employment, migration, environment, intellectual property rights and dispute settlement provisions. The recommendations are based on < a href="http://art-us.org/node/334" target="_blank">a set of proposals developed last year by civil society organizations from the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

In < a href="http://www.tradeobservatory.org/headlines.cfm?refid=104909" target="_blank">a press release, IATP’s Dennis Olson commented on the need for new agriculture rules under NAFTA: “To be effective, any new approach to trade must take into account that agriculture and food are unique and should not fall under the same trade rules as TV sets. Countries must have the policy flexibility to address the current global food crisis.”

As the debate about NAFTA takes place in the U.S., it’s important to recognize the damage this agreement has caused to all three countries. As Kevin Gallagher and Tim Wise of Tuft’s Global Development and Environment Institute < a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/jan/01/nafta-anniversary-us-mexico-trade" target="_blank">wrote recently in the Guardian, “Estimates vary, but Mexico probably gained about 600,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector since NAFTA took effect, but the country lost at least two million in agriculture, as cheap imports of corn and other commodities flooded the newly liberalized market.”

Job creation and revitalizing the staggering U.S. economy will be at the top of the new Obama team’s agenda in 2009. A new approach to trade, and NAFTA, will have to be an essential part of any economic recovery plan.