Magazine article Connexions

One Big Free Trade Zone: Canada

Magazine article Connexions

One Big Free Trade Zone: Canada

Article excerpt


(From "NAFTA: Extending the Damage," by Maude Barlow, in The Womanist, Canadian feminist periodical, Volume 3, Number 2, Fall, 1992.)

As Canadians have been agonizing in a very public way about the nature of our constitutional future, the federal government has been deeply locked into negotiations to write a new economic constitution for North America in which Canada can only be a net loser.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is the second phase of the Reagan-Bush dream to build one economic union from the Arctic to the Southern tip of South America--a huge free trade zone without standrds, where transnationals can move production to suit themselves.

Phase one was the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. It badly eroded our political sovereignty, as well as Canadian control over our energy industry, and destroyed over one-quarter of our manufacturing jobs in just three years. Michael Wilson insists that these losses are due only to the same recession that hit the U.S., but is unable to explain why the job loss in Canada has been four times greater than in the U.S. in the same period, and why the Canadian recession hit before the one in the U.S.

The third phase has already started. It is the addition of the other countries of the Americas, probably starting with Chile. The goal is to build a trade block on this hemisphere to allow the U.S. to counter the emerging might of Europe and Japan.

The dream is built on American technology and money, Canadian resources, Central and South American cheap labour, and the political acquiescence of all countries to one economic vision--a vision controlled by the one superpower of the region whose economy is larger by far than the combined economies of all 34 of its prospective partners.

This is an issue of real importance to women in all three countries. In Mexico, the workforce of the maquiladoras is largely female, very young, and very badly treated. Mexican labor laws prohibit employment of anyone under the age of 18, but factories regularly hire women as young as 14 and 15. If the women organize, they are fired. If they become pregnant, the same. If they become ill from the long hours of work in appalling conditions, including working with toxic chemicals, they have no claim to compensation or sick leave, and this goes for children who are born deformed from the chemical poisons their mothers breathe during pregnancy.

The workers are among the lowest paid in the world. The transnationals put nothing back into the system--not training, not health care, not sanitation, not sewage treatment, nothing. …

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