NAFTA promoters in the ’90s promised increased U.S. exports and jobs, with shrinking trade deficits. Senior Fellows of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), projected a NAFTA-induced trade surplus with Mexico, in turn, creating 170,000 new U.S. jobs by 1995. Within two years of NAFTA’s passage, PIIE prognosticators readjusted their projection of new NAFTA-created jobs downward to “zero.” The same group, created by billionaire corporate cheerleader Pete Peterson, is again forecasting increased exports and jobs if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is passed.
Referencing 19 serious pre-NAFTA economic studies projecting zero net job loss if NAFTA were to pass, President Bill Clinton estimated the creation of 200,000 U.S. jobs within two years, and 1 million within five years, based on a projected export boom to Mexico. Twenty years after Clinton signed NAFTA into law, Global Trade Watch reports a 450 percent increase in the U.S. trade deficit, resulting in the export of almost one million jobs, and downward pressure on wages.
In fact, the average annual U.S. agricultural trade deficit with Mexico and Canada ballooned to almost three times the pre-NAFTA level, to $975 million within two decades of NAFTA’s passage, eliminating an estimated one million net U.S. jobs by 2004, reports the Economic Policy Institute. As U.S. food processors moved to Mexico to take advantage of low wages, U.S. food imports soared. Public Citizen has tallied in a comprehensive report the promises by U.S. corporations to create specific numbers of jobs if NAFTA passed, and the consequent record of many of the same firms who relocated jobs to Mexico and Canada.
The export of subsidized U.S. corn did increase over NAFTA’s first decade, decimating the livelihoods of more than one million Mexican campesino farmers plus an additional 1.4 million agricultural workers, triggering mass dislocation, wage depression and a doubling of Mexican immigration to the United States.
Observed Bill Moyers recently, “The post-NAFTA era has been marked by growing inequality, declining job security and new leverage for corporations to attack government regulations enacted in the public interest.”
“Free Trade” Advocates Convene at Clinton Global Initiative
Echoing promises of lowered trade barriers, improved labor conditions and environmental protections made by NAFTA advocates two decades earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Hanoi, Viet Nam in 2012 promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most far-reaching trade agreement ever, encompassing 12 Pacific Rim countries. Secretary Clinton stated support for free expression online, and pronounced, “Democracy and prosperity go hand-in-hand,” even as the backroom dealings of hundreds of corporate lobbyists have engaged in writing the TPP to challenge everything from Net Neutrality to democratic process and state sovereignty. An amplification of NAFTA provisions, leaked segments of the secretive treaty reveal that wholesale powers granted by the TPP to corporations would permit them to sue governments for alleged lost profits in special international tribunals that bypass the U.S. court system, and to advocate overturn of regulatory laws intended to protect people and the environment.
As the Clinton Global Initiative convenes in Denver June 23-25, it brings together some of the same financial hard-hitters who cheerleaded NAFTA into being, and seek to do the same for the TPP. Among them, Robert Rubin, chief economic advisor to the Clinton White House, is listed as a participant in a panel discussion “Exploring what it will take for the U.S. to retain a position of global economic leadership in an increasingly complex world.”
Noble Energy, engaged in worldwide oil and gas exploration and production, is co-funder with Anadarko Petroleum of whitewashed pro-fracking ads under the acronym “CRED” (Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development). At the CGI event, Noble’s CEO is scheduled to host a discussion of “the ways in which the North American energy revolution is altering the geopolitical, economic, and energy policy landscapes,” seeking reexamination of “the traditional social and regulatory frameworks in which energy is produced, consumed and exported,” while touting the “low-carbon profile” of natural gas (no doubt minus consideration of externalities of hydrofracking — the overall costs to taxpayers and the environment).
Another forum examines the United States’ “changing relationship to its natural resources – “chiefly… vast oil and gas deposits that will enable the U.S. to be near energy independence within the next two decades.” Still another — the use of “public-private partnerships to improve education, modernize infrastructure, and advance environmentally-conscious energy production.”
A CGI Breakout Session has a panel of CEOs considering “Behavioral Economics,” how to use “behavioral modifications [to] yield significant impact” — “ways that the public and private sectors can utilize behavioral psychology to create a healthier, greener, and more financially-secure America…” Highlighted are “successful nudge strategies that can be applied widely throughout the United States” that gently urge people toward a desired behavior. Promoting healthier foods (which can also be subjectively defined) is one thing. Extending this technique to the backroom dealings around a trade deal like the TPP, it is more ominous to regard corporate manipulation with the intent of overriding laws and regulations passed to protect people and the environment, in service of the corporate bottom line.
The Denver forum of the Clinton Global Initiative seems nothing if not a meeting of one-percenters. Participating corporate media (Bloomberg TV, MSNBC, NBC’s David Gregory) tend to act as megaphones for the powerful, covering the news from the perspective of Wall St., not Main St., while glossing over the disastrous effects of NAFTA, and the even greater corporate power grab of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Corporate-Washington moneymill spits out evermore millionaires who are disconnected from the vast majority of people. Even Chelsea Clinton is a reported multimillionaire.
Regarding economic inequity, gauged by one in three Americans living at or close to the poverty line, CGI calls for consideration of strategies for a “just, sustainable, and prosperous future.” Participants might consider that since the implementation of NAFTA, economic inequality has exploded. Reports Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, “Since NAFTA’s implementation, the share of national income collected by the richest 10 percent has risen by 24 percent, while the top 1 percent’s share has shot up by 58 percent.”
CGI might broaden the scope of their dialogue by engaging folks like economist Joseph Stiglitz, who observes that most are on “the wrong side of globalization” — that trade treaties should be designed instead to increase the standard of living of most Americans. An alternative model for fair, sustainable trade is the Trade Reform, Accountability Development and Employment (TRADE) Act.
*CORRECTION: This post previously misstated a 1993 projection by senior fellows of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. They projected that NAFTA would create 170,000 American jobs by 1995, not 170,000 annually.