“Trade agreements do not create jobs. Never have. Never will.” Michael Hart, Trade Policy, Carleton University
Family Well-Being — Job security is a serious concern for everyone but especially weighs heavy in the hearts of parents of millennial children. Worry over shrinking opportunities for quality jobs is high here in Southwestern Ontario and throughout North America, particularly in traditional manufacturing regions. Caterpillar, Kellogg’s, Heinz closures come to mind. Your list may differ from mine but the disappearance of community infrastructure since the NAFTA 90’s is a shared experience. You know the story: parent company makes cuts, workers unite to protect a living wage, factory closes then reopens in a cheaper trade zone. NAFTA inspired the era of offshore and North Americans see its signs in their shrinking bank accounts and higher debt. Under free trade regimes that follow the NAFTA template (like the TPP) multitudes have, and will experience more family duress.
Corporate Trade Creates Job Insecurity – There is a difference between having a job and job security. This difference has been experienced over and over by Canadian, American, and Mexican families under NAFTA. Over two decades into this next generation trade deal and all three signatory countries have seen rising unemployment and the swapping of full-time jobs for part-time work. It’s cause and effect — free trade’s admitted purpose is to send goods and services around the globe with no interference. This encourages corporations to move to where rent is cheaper. Canada has lost over 500 000 manufacturing jobs since factories left in 1989, the start of the new free trade. The closures haven’t stopped. Public Citizen data shows that over 845, 000 people are registered for compensation for job loss from free trade called Trade Adjustment Assistance in the US. The reality for both countries has likely been more undocumented job losses while large corporations abandon community relationships. The redeeming factor of NAFTA should have been the raising of quality of life in Mexico. But Mexico too has experienced lower wages and worse conditions in competitions for the cheapest costs. The Maquiladora free trade factory zones have become heavily concentrated with health and safety violations. Mexico lost over 2 million agriculture jobs because of the US’ subsidized corn industry. These deals lower standards and destroy community-business relations because of their purpose — to remove barriers to investors profits. We can do better with our trade designs but not until people know about their importance. There is more data but do we need it? We know unemployment has risen through the free trade years: we see community members out of work, we see the continual closure of mom–and–pop shops, and we see people desperate, yet hopeful, for job security.
The TPP — There are trade and investment deals in negotiation now that are based on the NAFTA model but whose impacts will be broader. The Transpacific Partnership (TPP), a deal between the NAFTA countries and nine other Asia-Pacific nations, if passed, will set NAFTA-style norms for 40% of the world’s economy and include more sectors. That’s a lot of families whose jobs and wealth will be influenced. The TPP will make it easier for companies to offshore in places like Vietnam where minimum wage is approximately 60 cents per hour. We don’t typically think of minimum wage as a trade issue, but in the new deals, labour standards have been framed as an illegal barrier preventing investor profit. Egypt was sued in trade court for raising its minimum wage. Focusing on the cheapest deliverables cheapens society. The problem lies not in particular people or particular corporations but in a system that promotes business at the expense of communities.
A Caring Economy for Families — There are many opportunities to create diverse trade patterns and raise the quality of society through ethical business. Some of the most popular businesses are becoming those that invest in social relationship and community well-being. Trade structures will need to respond to this change. People are returning to their local roots. We are beginning to emerge from free trade fog and it is every day people beckoning forth the change through what they desire — local food, local history, regional travel, and the emerging consciousness that every community needs to take care of its local fabric and workforce. This keeps us sovereign and fed! Let us continue to incent entrepreneurship in our communities and peel back the aspects of free trade that stifle local infrastructure. We are better than policy that offshores our children’s dreams only to break down communities elsewhere. This is one step forward for a program of trade that is healthy. Our families and children are worth it. Fair trade that nourishes communities could be our legacy.