The NAFTA Debate: Grappling with Unconventional Trade Issues

The NAFTA Debate: Grappling with Unconventional Trade Issues

The NAFTA Debate: Grappling with Unconventional Trade Issues

The NAFTA Debate: Grappling with Unconventional Trade Issues

Excerpt

The negotiations for a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) displayed unique features that, from the outset, distinguished them from all previous trade discussions. The negotiations started with the United States, Mexico, and Canada pursuing a comprehensive trade and investment arrangement, emphasizing the removal of classic trade barriers such as tariffs and quotas as well as newer themes such as trade in services and protection of intellectual property. The political debate surrounding the negotiations, however, quickly expanded the negotiations to include three other issue areas, which the three governments at first resisted. First, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) insisted on including nontraditional issues such as the environment and labor standards in the negotiating agenda. Second, although not part of the negotiations, questions of human rights were raised, as were other social issues such as the cost of health care. Third, and most sensitive, questions regarding the impact of economic integration between low-wage and high-wage countries led to the comparison of NAFTA with other regional models such as the European Community; this led to anxieties in all three countries about a compromise of sovereignty. More broadly, the debate assumed a watershed character, defining whether the United States was to move toward a neoisolationist and neoprotectionist mode.

It was in this context that we asked the contributors to this volume to explore these frontier issues of trade in the North American region.

The NAFTA negotiations have changed the definition of what is encompassed in a "trade" negotiation. Thus, Howard Rosen looks at the history of U.S. labor-adjustment assistance programs and proposes solutions for North America in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, Jan Gilbreath and John Benjamin Tonra address how environmental questions can be handled in the context of a trade negotiation, drawing on both European and North American experiences. The boundaries between trade and ancillary issues are likely to foster political tension for years to come, a theme that is reviewed in Howard J. Wiarda's look at the politics of NAFTA in the United States (Chapter 5). The theme of the relationship between commercial integration and political democratization in Mexico is explored by authors M. Delal Baer and Sidney Weintraub (Chapter 7).

This volume was also inspired by the questions that NAFTA has posed regarding the limits of national sovereignty in all three countries. Soul-searching regarding national sovereignty and cultural identity has . . .

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