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article imagePresident Obama Backtracks on NAFTA Renegotiation

By Sadiq Green     Aug 13, 2009 in Politics
While on the campaign trail, President Barack Obama pledged to open up NAFTA to re-negotiations if he were elected. However, since taking office the President has so far backed off that pledge citing the global economic meltdown.
NAFTA for those who do not know is the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Obama’s reversal on NAFTA has come under criticism from labor and human rights groups. In Mexico, NAFTA has been blamed for squeezing out small Mexican farmers, depressing wages, and spurring waves of immigration to the United States. Before the summit, a group of protesters gathered at the US embassy in Mexico and called on Obama to uphold his campaign pledge.
Last week American President Barack Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met for two-days of talk in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was in essence the first official summit for the three leaders under NAFTA. The issues discussed included immigration reform, trade, Mexico’s drug war, the crisis in Honduras, and the swine flu outbreak. However, left out of the conversations was President Obama’s pledge to renegotiate certain aspects of the treaty.
Speaking to reporters last Friday President Obama said, “At a time when the economy has been shrinking drastically and trade has been shrinking around the world…we probably want to make the economy more stabilized in the coming months before we have a long discussion around further trade negotiations.”
All three countries that fall under the treaty have reasons to renegotiate NAFTA, and they’re very legitimate reasons. For President Obama not to tackle the issue on behalf of Americans at the so-called Three Amigos conference last weekend is more than a missed opportunity, but also a step backwards from yet another one of his campaign promises.
In the United States, labor is asking for a renegotiation to incorporate new labor standards into the treaty, as both labor and environment have been basically ignored in the current agreement. There are no real sanctions to them, and no means of controlling the flow of businesses moving south to Mexico in order for labor and have more control over wages and working conditions which more often than not violate workers’ rights.
In Mexico the big reason to renegotiate NAFTA has been that many small farmers have been displaced from the country by having to compete with imports from the United States. Mexicans are calling for corn, beans and basic foodstuffs to be eliminated from NAFTA in order to have policies within the nation that can assure a secure food supply and income for its citizens. An estimated two million farmers that have lost their livelihoods because of subsidized interests in the farming communities, and many of those have ended up migrating north to the United States.
In Canada, they’re looking for greater control over their natural resources. In fact each country shares an interest in having control over its natural resources in order to plan for sustainable development at a time when that’s obviously critical. These issues were not touched upon during the summit but at some point, the leaders of the three countries are going to have to deal with them, because a growing number of the citizens in said countries want it.
OXFAM International is a partnership of 13 organizations working together influence the powerful to ensure that poor people worldwide can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a voice in decisions that affect them. The organization has officially come down hard on not only President Obama, but the leaders of Canada and Mexico as well.
"It’s time for President Obama to fulfill the promises he made to his electorate. He promised, while campaigning and as president, to renegotiate NAFTA. At this first summit, he ought to start keeping his promise. Mexican President Felipe Calderon should fulfill the commitment signed by his predecessor in the National Rural Agreement to renegotiate said treaty. Canadian Prime Minister Harper should also address the demands of the parliamentary committee and of a growing number of citizens and organizations in his country who share that sentiment, as well." – OXFAM spokesperson Dolores Rojas
If NAFTA were to undergo renegotiations, the leaders of the U.S., Canada and Mexico would ideally want the aforementioned conditions or side agreements to become a part of the trade agreement as a whole so that they would not be subordinated to the current commercial aspects of NAFTA. Again, Obama supporters feel these are the issues that should be on the table and what candidate Obama expressed he wanted during the campaign. It was surprising and troubling to many of his supporters that these issues did not come up during the summit. In the United States there have been repeated calls for substantive changes in NAFTA.
Another development that could prove to haunt President Obama with regards to NAFTA is the swine flu epidemic. More and more the swine flu virus, also known as the H1N1 virus is becoming known as the NAFTA virus. There was recent evidence uncovered that suggests that large U.S. owned hog-raising operations that were shifted to Mexico once NAFTA started being implemented back in 1994 are very likely to be the cause. The underlying reason for these companies move south of the border in order to make the most of lack of environmental regulations. These farms, like the one located in the area of Veracruz in Perote which is considered to be ground zero for where the flu started disseminating, are described as having draconian health conditions.
After its initial reporting, there has been very little mainstream media attention in the United States on this particular aspect of the outbreak and lately there has been a tremendous push to stop calling it swine flu and to start calling it H1N1 flu.
With more and more campaign pledges being pushed to the back-burner early into his Presidency, the White House and Democrats alike, are giving the GOP more ammunition for their push to gain seats during the 2010 mid-term elections.
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