WSW: Unintended Consequenses Of Free Trade

Oct 26, 2017

Union workers march against the North American Free Trade Agreement in Mexico City, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017.
Credit Gustavo Martinez Contreras / The Associated Press

James W. Russell says supporters of the North American Free Trade Agreement said it would create jobs in Mexico and decrease migration to the United States. But the lecturer in Public Policy in Portland State University’s Department of Political Science says history shows that was not likely to be the case.


Russell speaks on Thursday November 2nd at Western Michigan University. His address called Race Politics and NAFTA begins at noon in the Bernhard Center. It's sponsored by WMU's Lewis Walker Institute For the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations. 

Free trade historically has created more migration, according to Russell. He says Puerto Rico’s agriculture industry suffered in the late 1940’s and 1950’s, because of an influx of American products. Russell says that brought many immigrants to the United States, and he says that’s also been true of migration from Mexico to the U.S. since NAFTA was implemented.

Russell says there are winners and losers in trade agreements. He says there has been some benefit to Mexico, specifically in the auto industry. But Russell says a number of people have been displaced by free trade.

Race is a factor because Russell says most of people migrating to the United States are perceived as racially and ethnically different. Russell says there is a push and pull factor in people moving from one place to another. He says they may be pulled by family reasons, or pushed out by economic factors and warfare. Russell says in addition to economic factors, Mexico was hit hard by the drug war, and the level of violence increased.

Asked about scrapping or renegotiating NAFTA, Russell says the devil is in the details. Although he concluded in the 1990’s that NAFTA should be opposed, Russell says ending it now in dramatic fashion would cause more economic disruption. He says the goal should be to make free trade better for working class people. But Russell says that doesn’t seem like what the Trump administration has in mind. He says while no one can be sure what President Trump will do, Russell says he doesn’t see a new agreement that will help the Mexican economy.

Russell says groups on the both left and right have come to vigorously oppose NAFTA. He says that’s likely a combination of legitimate problems caused by free trade and making it a political scape goat. Russell says the massive movement of Mexican people to the United States has stirred up the “worst of racial politics and resentment.” But he says there have been real economic problems because of NAFTA.