Column: The case for fair trade

In the modern-day world of globalization, there is no longer any self-reliance, only interdependence. The newspaper we read in the morning is printed on paper made from trees in Brazil, the coffee we drink is ground from Colombian beans and the cereal we eat comes from grains grown in South America.

Despite the prevalence of such products from underprivileged nations throughout the hemisphere, poverty endures. The per capita income of Brazil, the wealthiest of the Latin American countries, sits at approximately $3,000. Why is this?

In most cases, this can be attributed to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Upon its passage in 1994, NAFTA was acclaimed to be a gateway to open trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico. However, this was not really the case. In many respects, NAFTA’s restrictions on capital controls, national treatment and performance requirements inextricably tied the democratically elected governments of its members. Governments were required to treat international investors on par with domestic ones and to give most favored nation status to all member countries. In addition, they could not mandate levels of employment, minimum levels of domestic content or technology transfer. As a result, budding domestic industries throughout Mexico were crushed by foreign investment, resulting in a major destabilization of the Mexican economy. With no other employment available to them, Mexican manufacturing wages dropped 21 percent between 1995 and 1999.

This week, the Free Trade Area of the Americas Ministerial and Americas Business Forum is being held in Miami, Fla., to discuss the adoption of an extended version of NAFTA. The FTAA will further propound the preferred interests of multinational corporations over the rights of domestic industries and producers throughout the Americas. It will continue to concentrate wealth in the hands of an elite few, leaving millions throughout the Western Hemisphere in poverty and on the brink of starvation and ruin. The FTAA will prevent foreign governments from enacting environmental, quality control and labor regulations because it gives multinational corporations rights to sue governments for “unfair” requirements.

The effect of the FTAA is not limited to our Third World neighbors. Since NAFTA’s inception, 765,000 Americans have become unemployed. The FTAA can only lead to further industrial emigration. Corporations will not stay in the United States when they can save millions by placing plants overseas. When our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere begin to produce cheap labor as their primary export, it will be a clear sign that the economy cannot be sustained. Eventually, America will feel the drawbacks of economically maintaining an entire hemisphere. Worst of all, these trade agreements are being negotiated without congressional input.

What can we do? As Americans, we have taken on an obligation to promote justice and fairness. This is, and should not be limited to, military support. We need to give our neighbors an opportunity to develop strong economies so that in the future, in our time of need, they will be there to support us. I urge you all to lobby your representatives in Congress and make them aware of these concerns. The FTAA has not been passed yet – you still have an opportunity to make your voice heard. Make it loud.

-The writer, a senior, is the secretary of United Students for Fair Trade and a Student Association CCAS undergraduate senator.

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