The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


March 10, 2021/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

Want to Make a Trade?

You’re living on a small farm. You have a hundred ripe bananas in that bunch you just cut down, far more than your family could ever eat. On another farm, your neighbors have chickens that lay lots of eggs. Trade some of your bananas for some of those eggs? A no-brainer.


Or maybe your daughter has two purple unicorns and her friend has two pink ones. They both prefer pink. So if your daughter wants to trade for a pink one, she’s going to have to throw in a sweetener, a teddy perhaps. Both sides know they need to satisfy the other to get what they want. They can negotiate the terms quickly. Win-win.


Of course, your neighbor might sneak in and steal your bananas. Or a mean girl might beat up your daughter and grab all the unicorns. That sort of theft and bullying tends to characterize global trading much more than any search for mutual benefit. And for the past quarter-century, ever since the World Trade Organization’s invention, legalese and happy-face emojis have camouflaged the brutal results. The infamous NAFTA opened the floodgates that allowed US corporate giants to pour into México, driving down wages and protections for workers in both countries.


Last July, a new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement — the USMCA — replaced NAFTA. Has anything changed? Progressive observers have good reason to be skeptical. But one global trade activist isn’t focusing on what has stayed the same. Daniel Rangel is looking at the USMCA on its own terms. Hes asking, for instance, whether the new agreement gives workers any more clout with employers. In this week’s Voices, we have his answers.


And those unicorns? Some say they don’t exist, but tell that to your daughter. Some say trade agreements negotiated by and for working people can’t exist either. But we can make them real. Our world has enough bananas and eggs for everyone.


Daniel Rangel practiced global trade and antitrust law in his native Colombia before going abroad to study international economic and legal policy in France and the US. Wanting to play an active role in the struggle for a fair and sustainable international economic order, Rangel would then find his perfect fit and become research director for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.


A few months ago, Global Trade Watch decided to focus on monitoring trade with México in particular. Why?


Through the efforts of Democrats in Congress, the new NAFTAthe US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the USMCAhints at key concepts that a pro-worker, pro-environment trade agreement should include. I’m referring, in particular, to the agreement’s enhanced labor and environmental obligations and to enforcement mechanisms that could help improve the lives of working people in all of North America.


In addition, México under Andrés Manuel López Obrador who is more pro-labor than past Mexican presidents may provide us the opportunity to test the agreement’s pro-labor terms, to help us assess whether trade policy and trade agreements can be an effective tool to further a model of economic globalization that gives most people the opportunity to live a decent life. The current model has primarily benefited transnational capital.


But what do you say to those in the US labor left who feel that the new labor provisions amount to no more than window dressing?´


The revised NAFTA’s labor terms no longer sit in a side agreement, as they did in the original 1993 deal. They sit in the core text of the agreement, subject to a special labor enforcement system that allows cases to be brought directly against specific companies, with penalties imposed on firms found in violation. The test will be in the implementation.


Do you see other positive changes?


The elimination of the old Investor-State Dispute Settlement rules rates as a significant change. This old system empowered multinational corporations and wealthy individuals to put the “right” to private profit ahead of the right of nations to protect the interests of their people. Under this system, multinationals and the rich could challenge policies enacted by the governments of NAFTA’s signatory countries. Their subsequent frivolous claims made all three nations want to get rid of NAFTA’s dispute settlement rules.


But many of the old problems with NAFTA do remain in the new agreement. And we also see some new issues of concern.

You recently wrote a report that shows how NAFTA delivered Mexican workers a double whammy. NAFTA hit them hard both in México and as US workers! How did that come about?


During the last several years, media reporting about US manufacturing job and wage losses from trade liberalization and offshoring focused on white workers and suggested that they fared the worst.


This idea quickly evolved into conventional wisdom, one of the reasons for the ascent of the far-right populist Donald Trump. But when you look at US government data more closely, you see a quite different picture. Black and Latino workers have been overrepresented in the industries most affected by import competition since NAFTA. Our report details this harsh reality and explores how underlying racist structures left Black and Latino workers less able to weather the globalization storm.


How do you think the relationship between Biden and AMLO will go in terms of trade? 


Both presidents have an interest in reshaping the bilateral relationship. USMCA’s labor and environmental obligations could be a tool to increase cooperation on issues crucial for Biden’s agenda. Or the agreement could become a point of contention, depending on whether Mexico thoroughly implements the labor and environmental terms the new agreement requires and on how the first labor cases launched by the U.S. administration get handled and decided. We have yet to see which scenario plays out.   


Manuel Perez-Rocha, a Mexican national, has led efforts to promote just and sustainable alternative approaches to trade and investment agreements for the past two decades. Currently an associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies Global Economy Program in Washington, D.C., Perez-Rocha previously worked with the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade. We’ve excerpted this analysis from a speech he delivered in Seattle to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests. The full text appears online at the IPS website.


We Need a Progressive Alternative on Trade — and NAFTA 2.0 Isnt It

As the right has increasingly taken up opposition to trade policies from a protectionist and often xenophobic angle, the need to distinguish a left, internationalist critique of corporate globalization has never been more urgent. Progressive politicians and policymakers — from AMLO to Bernie Sanders — must unify around a progressive vision of trade to guide an international system that places people and planet over profits.


Drawing on the rich history of trade policy alternatives, some of us have developed a working paper that articulates four key pillars of a progressive trade and development agenda:

       Human rights in the broadest sense — including economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights — must have primacy over corporate and investor rights, and there needs to be legally binding obligations on transnational corporations.

       Democratic governments must have the policy space to pursue and prioritize local and national economic development, good jobs for their citizens, and the preservation, promotion, and restoration of public services.

       Citizens, communities, and the environment must have the right to protection through public interest regulations.

       A climate-friendly approach should be adopted whenever pursuing trade and investment, which can no longer be allowed to outpace the carrying capacity of the planet.


A positive, progressive trade agenda includes, but is not limited to, the following proposals:

       Eliminate dispute settlement systems and investment protections that undercut the right of duly elected governments to regulate in the interests of their citizens and the environment.

       Replace excessive intellectual property rights with balanced protections that encourage innovation while supporting user rights, data privacy, and access to affordable medicines.

       Replace non-binding, unenforceable labor provisions with a floor of strong, fully enforceable labor rights and standards that enable citizens and trade unions to take complaints to independent international secretariats, which should also have the authority to proactively investigate labor rights abuses.

       Fully recognize and respect gender and indigenous rights, including prioritizing womens employment and economic well-being, and recognizing indigenous title to land and resources.

       Ensure international trade agreements respect food sovereignty and the livelihoods of small holdings and family farmers by giving priority to local producers and providing a fair return for small-scale agricultural producers.

       Enshrine binding, enforceable obligations to reduce and mitigate the effects of climate change in all international commercial agreements.

      Remove the pressure under current services and investment rules to privatize public services.


The triple crises of democracy, social inequality, and climate change are now deeply intertwined and driving humanity to the brink. But we still have a choice. We still have time to fight for a world based on economic and social equality and ecological sustainability. Building a new multilateralism based on internationalism and solidarity is one prerequisite for getting us to that world.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Peter Davies, México City’s metal barrier becomes memorial for thousands of victims of femicide, México News Daily. Mothers of murdered girls and women and feminist collectives have turned a barrier erected around the National Palace in México City, in anticipation of Monday’s International Women’s Day march, into a femicide memorial.


Elisabeth Malkin, 'Amlo made us public enemy No 1': why feminists are México's voice of opposition, Guardian. México’s new wave of feminism emerges from a younger generation of women, many of them from outside Mexico City, who have a more direct experience of violence than women’s rights advocates of the 1970s and 1980s.


Néstor Jiménez, Diputados aprueban que salario mínimo no esté por debajo de inflación, La Jornada. La Cámara de Diputados avaló de manera unánime, con 428 votos, la minuta enviada por el Senado de la República para establecer que el salario mínimo no se fijará por debajo de la inflación.


Covid vaccinations give Morena party a shot in the arm for Congressional elections, México News Daily. A new poll finds support for Morena candidates for the lower house of Congress up 6 percentage points since January.


Emilio Téllez Contreras, México: el progresismo y la crisis, Jacobin América Latina. Este año hay elecciones en México, y la izquierda tiene el desafío de construir un proceso alternativo.


México evaluating lithium nationalization proposal, Bnamericas. A number of private mining companies are exploring early-stage lithium projects in México.


Adriana Barrera, México's Senate passes divisive bill to strengthen state utility CFE, Yahoo Finance. Mexico’s Senate has passed a bill to strengthen the state utility CFE that has angered private businesses.


Merve Berker, ’México City and Havana are like sisters,’ Anadolu Agency. The Mexican and Cuban ambassadors in Ankara draw similarities between the two countries.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati. We welcome your suggestions and feedback. Interested in getting involved? Drop us an email!


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