THE BLOG

NAFTA Took Good Canadian Jobs And Made Them Bad Ones In Mexico

The deal was written to help corporations, not the working people that produce the products.

08/30/2017 11:49 EDT | Updated 08/30/2017 14:55 EDT
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland shakes hands with Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal before the first round of talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement at the Embassy of Canada in Washington, D.C., Aug. 15, 2017.

After a first round of negotiations for a renewed North American Free Trade Agreement two weeks ago in Washington, where all sides mostly outlined their opening positions, talks move this weekend to the place where much of the problem with the deal lies: Mexico.

When NAFTA was signed nearly 23 years ago, we were told the deal would lift up Mexican workers with new factories providing good jobs, fight poverty and build strong communities.

Well, it hasn't happened.

The sad truth is that poverty has not gone down in the years since. Also, the average automaker in Mexico made just $3.95 (US) an hour in 2007, with many making much less. They cannot afford to buy the cars they make, let alone provide a decent standard of living for their families.

The deal was written to help corporations, not the working people that produce the products.

The reason NAFTA has not had the impact that was promised is simple. The deal was written to help corporations, not the working people that produce the products. It was written to bolster investors, not communities. Its primary purpose was always to encourage commerce, not to fight poverty.

In the neoliberal thinking of the day, helping corporations, bolstering investors and encouraging commerce were assumed to help create good jobs for working people.

Trickle down, someone called it. And it never happened, just as the labour movement and progressive groups in all three NAFTA countries predicted.

I have never hated to be so right before.

Ginnette Riquelme / Reuters
Farmers from different states, holding a banner, take part in a march against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks in front of the Angel of Independence Monument in Mexico City, Mexico July 26, 2017. The banner reads "Mexico is better without NAFTA."

As poverty and wages have remained stagnant and purchasing power has declined,human rights abuses have mounted, as documented by the U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report, which concluded in 2014 that the Mexican government did not consistently protect workers' rights. In 2015, Human Rights Watch found that, "The dominance of pro-management unions continues to obstruct legitimate labour organizing activity."

It is of little surprise, then, that there has been a steady flow of auto plants to Mexico for many years now. In just the last five years, nine of 11 new auto factories announced in North America were in Mexico. And while 3.6 million vehicles were built in Mexico in 2016, only 1.6 million were sold there.

Mexico's 900,000 auto manufacturing jobs represent 45 per cent of the entire North American industry, compared with 125,000 jobs in Canada, or six per cent. Since 1993, employment in Canada at the Detroit Three has dropped by more than half, from 52,000 in 1993 to just 23,000 last year. Along the way, our automotive trade deficit with Mexico tripled from 2008 to reach $12 billion.

We need to be clear about one thing: none of this imbalance or pain to Canadian workers is the fault of workers in Mexico.

Faced with grinding poverty, few opportunities and a border that is increasingly becoming shut, no one can blame a young mother or father for taking whatever work they can, however poorly paying or exploitative it might be.

We need to be clear about one thing: none of this imbalance or pain to Canadian workers is the fault of workers in Mexico.

At the end of the day, workers need to put food on the table and provide for their families. Critics of NAFTA understand that, and we are fully aware of who is to blame here.

It's the corporations that exploit the desperation of such workers, taking good jobs in Canada and the United States, and making them bad jobs in Mexico. It's the investors who, through their favouring of stocks in companies who do this sort of despicable thing, encourage such behaviour.

And it's the negotiators of such trade deals — and NAFTA isn't alone in this — that pave the way for corporations to play off workers in different countries against another in a race to the bottom.

We won't stop corporations from chasing lower costs, nor investors from chasing rising stock prices.

But we can stop negotiating deals that make it all too easy to drive down wages and working conditions in the name of free trade. As the talks open this weekend in Mexico, that is the message we need negotiators to hear.

Also on HuffPost: