AN AMERICAN DILEMMA: THE FLOW OF TRADE VERSUS THE FLOW OF PEOPLE IN NAFTA

Emilio C Viano

Abstract


The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 aims at creating the legal, political, and business conditions for a freer circulation of goods, capitals and services in North America. However it gives scant attention to the mobility of workers.  The basic premise of this paper is that globalisation of trade and the universal diffusion of human rights have evolved and progressed side by side, even though with difficulty and reluctantly, and that the regional liberalisation of trade must be deeply interwoven with issues related to socio-economic rights to be ultimately and durably successful.   This paper’s major questions are: How does NAFTA address labour mobility? Does NAFTA neglect, oppose or support the free movement of people across its borders? Does the agreement deal with labour mobility in a clear and definite manner or does it ignore it and give it short shrift? Should NAFTA support the liberalisation of immigration within its area as a long term objective, as part of a deeper and broader regional integration, conditioned on considerable reforms by its Member States, especially Mexico’s legal system, and energy, tax and banking policies, among others?  Is the free movement of people needed to be truly successful and provide economic security, survival and prosperity for its member countries in view of vastly changed economic and trade conditions since its inception? This paper first traces the history of the drafting of NAFTA. Then it examines what NAFTA means for labour mobility within the complex interaction between an economic colossus like the United States and a developing country like Mexico, also taking into account current migration trends. In this section, the paper also covers the liberalisation of the mobility of labour (albeit limited) brought about through administrative regulations. Interspersed with this there is a discussion of what should be a mutually reinforcing relationship between international free trade and social policy.

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