Over the past 20 years, free trade agreements have served to disadvantage American workers and undermine domestic food safety in the US, but they have also stolen jobs and caused communities to fall apart in developing countries. When communities fall apart, it only gets worse from there. People may hear about the effects of instability in general (mass immigration to the US to escape violence and poverty in Central America, for example), and not realize instability can be especially worse for women.
21 years ago (2014), the US, Canada and Mexico enacted NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. A new trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), has been in the works for years, and is now coming to a head. TPP is a regional NAFTA-style trade agreement which would grant even greater privileges to transnational corporations. TPP involves possibly 12 or more countries. However, problems caused by the first and much smaller NAFTA have not been addressed yet, and are very telling as to what TPP could cause for workers, communities and women in developing countries and other countries involved in TPP.
These trade agreements have been great for corporations but terrible for workers. NAFTA has caused major problems for farmers, communities, and more violence against women. Here are some examples.
- As U.S. companies dominated the agricultural industry, hundreds of small farmers in Mexico were put out of business, leading to a huge population of rural poor with little government infrastructure to support them. This created the ideal opportunity for drug cartels to fill in where the government left off. (http://feministing.com/2014/02/21/how-u-s-policy-contributes-to-gendered-violence-in-mexico/)
- By increasing violence and inequality in Mexico, NAFTA and other neoliberal policies hurt women disproportionately.
- When inequality grows, women make up the majority of the growing poor. In fact, Women make up 70% of the world’s one billion poorest people.
- In conflict areas, organized groups tend to abuse women as a way of asserting dominance over communities and rival gangs, and violence committed against women is three times more likely to be deadly.
“Not all of Mexico’s problems can be laid at NAFTA’s doorstep. But many have a direct causal link,” according to http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/11/24/what-weve-learned-from-nafta/under-nafta-mexico-suffered-and-the-united-states-felt-its-pain
As of 2014, twelve countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region have participated in negotiations on the TPP: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
Moreover, the TPP agreement is being worked out by countries and corporations, over 600 corporations. In fact, the negotiations for TPP are being held in secret, even from our US Congress. Actually most of what we know about TPP are through leaked information! Yet giant corporations are in the loop.
Worse than that, President Obama is seeking fast-track authority for negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the U.S.- EU Free Trade Agreement. Fast Track authority means “the United States Congress would introduce and vote on an administration-authored bill for implementing the TPP with minimal debate and no amendments, with the entire process taking no more than 90 days,” according to Title 19 of the US Code, at https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/19/2191 and at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Partnership
These trade deals will harm American workers and consumers, and also workers and consumers in other countries. We can also expect increased poverty and violence, especially poverty and violence against women.