Free Trade and Uneven Development: The North American Apparel Industry after NAFTA

Free Trade and Uneven Development: The North American Apparel Industry after NAFTA

Free Trade and Uneven Development: The North American Apparel Industry after NAFTA

Free Trade and Uneven Development: The North American Apparel Industry after NAFTA

Synopsis

This volume addresses many of the complex issues raised by North American integration through the lens of one of the largest and most global industries in the region: textiles and apparel. In part, this is a story of winners and losers in the globalization process, especially if one focuses on jobs lost and jobs gained in different countries and communities within North America, defined here as: Canada, the United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. However, it would be a mistake to view the industry solely in these zerosum terms. The North American apparel industry is an excellent illustration of larger trends in the global economy, in which regional divisions of labor appear to be one of the most stable and effective responses to globalization.The contributors to this volume are an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars who have all done detailed fieldwork at the firm and factory levels in one or more countries of North America. Taken together the essays offer theoretical and methodological innovations built around the intersection of the global commodity chains and industrial districts literatures, as well as innovative approaches to studying the impact of cross-national, interfirm networks in terms of production and trade issues, and local development outcomes for workers and communities. Author note: Gary Gereffi is Director of the Markets and Management Studies Program at Duke University. He is the co-editor of Commodity Chains and Global Capitalism (with Miguel Korzeniewicz) and Manufacturing Miracles: Paths of Industrialization in Latin America and East Asia (with Donald L. Wyman). >P>David Spener is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He is the co-editor (with Kathleen Staudt) of The U.S.-Mexico Border: Transcending Divisions, Contesting Identities. >P>Jennifer Bair is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Yale University.

Excerpt

The economic and social consequences of international trade agreements have become a major area of inquiry in development studies in recent years. As evidenced by the energetic protests surrounding the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 1999 and the controversy about China’s admission to the WTO, such agreements have also become a focus of political conflict in both the developed and developing countries. At issue are questions of job gains and job losses in different regions, prices paid by consumers, acceptable standards for wages and working conditions in transnational manufacturing industries, and the quality of the environment. All these concerns have arisen with regard to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and can be addressed through an examination of changes in the dynamics of the apparel industry in the postNAFTA period. In this book, we examine the evolution of the apparel industry in North America in order to address some of these questions as they pertain to North America, with an eye toward the broader implications of our findings. We also consider the countries of the Caribbean Basin and Central America, whose textile and apparel goods are now allowed to enter the U.S. market on the same basis as those from Canada and Mexico (Odessey 2000).

Globalization and Regionalization
of the Apparel Industry

As Michael Mortimore notes in Chapter 14, the apparel industry has served as a crucial stepping-stone in the economic development of all the advanced industrialized nations and it has also been an important engine of growth for the successful newly industrializing economies of East Asia. Apparel manufacturing is traditionally one of the largest sources of industrial employment for most countries. In addition, apparel is a quintessential global industry. It exemplifies, more than any other industry, the process by which firms have relocated their labor-intensive manufacturing operations from high-wage regions in the advanced industrialized countries to low-cost production sites in industrializing nations.

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