Mexico: NAFTA under fire from all sides

At a Feb. 29 press conference in Mexico City, researchers from the Economic Investigations Institute (IIEC) of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) gave a generally negative assessment of the economic impact of the 14-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Mexico. According to the institute’s Emilio Romero, Mexico has lost 2 million agricultural jobs during the period, while 400,000 Mexicans now migrate to the US each year. Jose Luis Calva said that since NAFTA took effect in 1994, Mexico’s growth rate has averaged 3% a year, as opposed to a rate of 6.1% a year from the end of the 1910 revolution until 1982. Agricultural production has increased, he said, but productivity increased much more slowly than in the US; Mexico’s rate grew from 1.7 to two tons per hectare while the US rate grew from seven to 8.9 tons.

Calva recommended that NAFTA’s three members—Canada, Mexico and the US—pool resources to aid the development of Mexico’s most backward regions, and loosen restrictions on immigration by the labor force in order to allow an improvement of wages. This process would be similar to what happened in the European Union (EU), he noted. (La Jornada, March 1)

In the US, the two contenders for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination for the November elections, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), both criticized NAFTA while campaigning for a March 5 primary in Ohio, where the agreement is unpopular. Clinton’s husband, then-president Bill Clinton, pushed ratification of NAFTA through Congress in 1993. There are also questions about the depth of Obama’s opposition to NAFTA. According to a memo by Canadian political and economic affairs consular officer Joseph De Mora, Obama’s senior economic policy adviser, University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, met Canadian officials at the Chicago consulate in February and told them that Obama’s position was “more reflective of political maneuvering than policy” and “should be viewed as more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.” (New York Times, March 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 9

See our last posts on Mexico and NAFTA.