I feel conflicted about the current administration’s proposal to cut back free trade. Ever since I learned about NAFTA and the Zapatistas and the sweatshops along the Mexican border, I have opposed free trade agreements between the U.S. and developing nations. The primary reason being that when you move manufacturing and industry to a country with cheaper labor costs, workers will be exploited and the environment will be polluted because the host country does not have adequate labor laws, environmental laws, and/or enforcement of the laws in those countries. I witnessed both labor exploitation and environmental destruction in Mexico during a trip to the border region sponsored by my college. (thank you, St. Lawrence University)
NAFTA also eliminated jobs in both the United States and Mexico in certain sectors. In the United States, manufacturing jobs were shipped to Mexico, leaving blue collar workers out of work. In Mexico, small family farms suddenly had to compete with U.S. agribusiness, which in the U.S. is one of the most heavily subsidized sectors of the economy. Corn production in Mexico was all but wiped out when cheaper U.S. corn hit the market. As a result, many farmers went out of business, and without a job, it became more appealing for agricultural workers to immigrate to the United States in order to find work.
Of course, automation technology took a lot of manufacturing jobs away from U.S. workers, regardless of the impact of free trade agreements. Let us not lose sight of this fact.
What will happen if we cut back on trade? Will consumer prices go up, and if they do, will local manufacturers step in to make products that are no longer made in America? Will American workers be adequately trained to step up production? Will we have shortages of electronics since most electronics are produced in Asia? What if we run out of rubber or bananas or anything that does not grow in the continental United States?
I am all for increasing the strength of local economies rather than creating dependence on vast global networks, but will any of Trump’s policies actually do that? Most of his domestic policies seem to be directed at promoting concentration of wealth in the hands of large corporations and taking away social programs and health benefits from the people who would work in this new “America-first” economy.