Trade agreements can be used to boost prosperity on all sides of trade borders by increasing business opportunities, raising wages and increasing choices. Or they can be used to concentrate corporate power, cutting wages and choices.
Guess which model our country’s corporate-written trade agreements have followed? (Hint: look around you: we have ever-increasing concentration of corporate power and concentration of wealth, limited competition, falling wages and limited opportunities to start new businesses.)
One way our corporate-written trade agreements have hurt most of us has been through forcing working people to compete in a race to the bottom. The effects on most of us are just devastating. For example:
“The Men Have Gone To The United States”
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) forced many small Mexican farmers out of business. Many of these small farmers were forced to migrate north in search of a way to make a living.
A McClatchy Newspapers report from February, 2011, “Free trade: As U.S. corn flows south, Mexicans stop farming,” examined the dynamic:
Look around the rain-fed corn farms in Oaxaca state, and in vast areas of Mexico, and one sees few young men, just elderly people and single mothers.
“The men have gone to the United States,” explained Abel Santiago Duran, a 56-year-old municipal agent, as he surveyed this empty village in Oaxaca state.
… A flood of U.S. corn imports, combined with subsidies that favor agribusiness, are blamed for the loss of 2 million farm jobs in Mexico. The trade pact worsened illegal migration, some experts say, particularly in areas where small farmers barely eke out a living.
The Communications Workers of America (CWA) gathered migration facts in, “How U.S. Trade Policy Has Contributed to Mass-Migration to America.” Some of the numbers:
In total, nearly 5 million Mexican farmers were displaced while seasonal labor in agro-export industries increased by about 3 million – for a net loss of 1.9 million jobs.iii
The annual number of immigrants from Mexico more than doubled from 370,000 in 1993 (the year before NAFTA went into effect) to 770,000 in 2000 – a 108% increase.
That Was Then, This Is TPP
Now another corporate-written “trade” agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is probably coming before Congress in the “lame duck” session following the election. Like NAFTA, this agreement is likely to cause another forced migration northward from Mexico, Central and South American countries as jobs move from those countries to even lower-wage countries like Vietnam.
A report from the AFL-CIO titled “Trading Away Migrant Rights: How the TPP Would Fuel Displacement and Fail Migrant Workers” warns:
The TPP categorically fails to protect workers in the Pacific Rim. As currently drafted, the TPP would increase corporate profits and power while exposing working people to real and predictable harm, including lost jobs and lower wages. Migrant workers already are subject to extreme rights violations in some TPP countries, and this new trade deal would make it even harder for many families to find decent work at home.
The TPP is a recipe for destabilizing communities, perpetuating low wages and stifling labor rights—all of which are factors driving migration.
On a Monday press call discussing the report Celeste Drake, Trade and Globalization Specialist with AFL-CIO, explained how the report shows that TPP is likely to make working families in TPP countries less secure.
The agreement fails workers by offering no transition assistance or safety net for workers who lose their jobs. Mass displacements are not easily remedied which can spur mass migration. Then as economic factors increase migration TPP provides displaced workers with no protections, no labor rights and does not set up a task force to address trafficking and abusive practices by labor recruiters.
Shannon Lederer, AFL-CIO’s Director of Immigration, explained that migration should be a choice not a necessity for survival. Trade should lift all boats, not facilitate a race to the bottom. But TPP would not help to advance these goals. It would in fact make efforts to achieve them harder. She also noted that TPP has a complete lack of protections for migrant workers. Migrant workers face exploitation and trafficking.
The AFL-CIO report explains how TPP will kill jobs in Mexico , Central and South America, forcing people to migrate:
The TPP is poised to disrupt North and Central American supply chains by granting substantial trade benefits, including eventual duty-free access for all TPP countries to the U.S., Mexican and Canadian markets. This will set CAFTA and NAFTA countries up against even lower wage countries in the TPP like Vietnam and Malaysia.
… The inclusion of Vietnam in the TPP is a major concern to apparel workers due to the size of Vietnam’s apparel industry and extensive government subsidies and ownership of large apparel manufacturing facilities. Vietnam is already the second-largest textile and apparel exporter to the United States, shipping more than $11 billion in product to the United States in 2014. This level could surge under the TPP, which would put enormous pressure on Central American manufacturers and workers. Much Central American production could transfer to Vietnam, with its lower wages and authoritarian regime, further degrading Central America’s jobs base and uprooting those dependent on textile jobs.
Likewise, Malaysia’s electronics industry is rife with forced labor, according to the U.S. government’s own reports; yet the TPP would force workers in Mexico’s maquila sector to compete with Malaysian production standards. Loose rules of origin requirements mean that competition not only will come from Vietnam and Malaysia, but also China. Workers in the Americas displaced by these factors may have few options but to emigrate in search of better opportunities in the United States and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, changing economic opportunities associated with increased production and growth in countries like Brunei, Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam could amplify job churn and both “push” and “pull” workers into countries with poor labor rights records.
TPP offers nothing to protect these workers or protect the rest of us from the resulting race to the bottom. But maybe that’s the point.
This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 26, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.
Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.