Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Laura Carlsen, "Make good on Obama's promise to renegotiate NAFTA," CIP Americas Program, January 12, 2009.

Will he or won't he? In the shadow of the economic crisis, a war of words rages over whether President Obama will hold to his campaign promise of opening up the North American Free Trade Agreement for renegotiation.

  Besides the jobs issue, U.S. opposition splits between fair-trade groups that focus on jobs and the environment and a nationalist rightwing that believes NAFTA and its offspring, the Security and Prosperity Partnership, threaten U.S. sovereignty.

The debate is not likely to stay in the shadows for long. Campaign attacks on NAFTA and candidate promises to renegotiate proved that demands for revision of the free trade model have reached critical mass in U.S. politics. A post-election report from Public Citizen heralded a net gain of 28 fair-trade members in the House and seven senators. Most of these politicians, it notes, did not just happen to be critical of the free trade model. They actively ran on a fair-trade platform and won based at least in part on that stance.

The economic crisis only strengthens those demands. If international trade and investment policy is the pillar of the current economic model, its revision must be a foundation of global restructuring plans.

Why Renegotiate NAFTA?

The mainstream press is wrong when it says that the United States cannot "unilaterally" call for renegotiation. Not only is renegotiation permitted legally—in fact, any country can unilaterally withdraw with six months notice—but there have been many calls for renegotiation in Canada and Mexico.

Canadians have built a strong grassroots movement to protect natural resources from predatory NAFTA clauses. Broad-based citizen groups like the Council of Canadians oppose NAFTA because of the energy proportionality clause that requires Canada to export oil to the United States even in times of scarcity, the investor-state clauses that give investors the right to sue governments contained in Chapter 11, and the clause that permits bulk-water exports. Polls in the general population show that 61% favor renegotiation.

In Mexico, 100,000 people marched in the streets on two separate occasions under the banner of renegotiation to revise the agricultural chapter. They demanded protection of basic food production by removing corn and beans from the agreement. In 2003, former President Vicente Fox requested opening up the agreement, only to be rebuffed by the U.S. government.

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