As of summer 2018, it is not clear what the international trade deals will be like between the U.S. and Mexico that are theoretically aimed at improving the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The current NAFTA agreement in general didn’t help Mexican or U.S. American workers. Since 1993 factories shut down in the U.S. and productions were outsourced to Mexico and many other countries. Vast areas of the U.S. that once were the home to major industries and jobs for working class families were abandoned by large corporations like Alcoa, GE, Delphi, etc. The corporations sought to lower the costs of production and wages. They did. But along with their reorganized labor rights under the NAFTA, they also took away jobs and the foundations for economic stability in the lives of millions of Americans. Meanwhile in Mexico, for example, they brought in employment opportunities but no job security and few improvements to the health and well-being of the new employees for an American subsidiary. The “maquiladoras.” the global factories of Mexico are notorious for offering work that is brutal, uncertain, toxic, rife with harassment and abuse of women, and that does not offer a living wage. NAFTA 2.0 or the USMCA has yet to be tested for changes that supposedly improve the lives of farmers or workers.
**And will Trump’s “improved” trade deal with Mexico actually improve the lives of WORKING WOMEN?
AND GLOBAL AGRICULTURAL
A visit to the Mexican border to view the conditions for workers in the maquiladoras often provides surprises about who those people we meet are and where they came from. So many of the workers are doing factory work for the first time in their lives. They are migrants who came to the border because their lives on the farmland had been drastically transformed by the intersection of changing economic policies and natural disasters. A high majority of them are from farming communities deep in the Mexican southern interior. Many of the migrants at the Texas-Mexico border hail from lush agricultural regions like Veracruz. They arrive to find a living environment that is hot, dusty and inhospitable for those without the resources to create a comfortable home. In the desert environment they find jobs in the factories but quickly see that the working conditions or pay are mean, hostile, unsafe. Before long the farmer-turned-factory workers are wanting to return to the communal farmlands historically known as ejidos, in theory protected by post-Revolution reforms for peasant farmers. But too often the worker knows that s/he cannot easily go back — they will face back home conditions that will only lead them into the extreme poverty that triggered their migration to El Norte. So they resign themselves to stay, risking everyday their health because of the harshness of the schedules, the toxicity of the workplace, the meagerness of the pay.
One part of the NAFTA abandoned the migrant laborer by leaving out protections for workers, while other parts of neoliberal trade policies directly affected the ability of the small Mexican farmer to survive on the ejidos. Farmers turned maquiladora workers often say “our government abandoned us.” The liberalization of agricultural trade between the U.S. and Mexico under NAFTA has in fact had a negative impact on the smaller Mexican domestic farmer who has faced competition or other pressures from the exporting by U.S. farmers of below cost products (e.g.,corn). NAFTA in a sense contributed to a “global politics of food production” that has tended to marginalize the already poor thus reinforcing hierarchies of power and privilege. Too frequently left out of the analysis has been the role that marginalization of small farmers or agricultural laborers, as a consequence of new trade deals between the U.S. and countries like Mexico, plays in the ongoing phenomenon of migrations northward.
An October 2013 ruling by a Mexican court weighed in on the battle over the power of the U.S. global agricultural corporation to introduce farming methods that not only further debilitate sustainable agricultural practices but also do further damage to the livelihoods of the small Mexican farmer. The Mexican court imposed a moratorium on the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and dealt a blow to the power of Monsanto, Inc. one of the world’s largest agricultural companies to further profit from its global GMO agenda at the expense of sustainable agriculture, economic justice for the small migrant farmer and biodiversity.
The following article, available in both Spanish and English, by Professor Carmen G. Gonzalez of Seattle University School of Law analyzes the applicable international law and places the GMO issue in the larger context of agricultural trade policy and the pauperization of small farmers in the developing world.