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The High Price of 'Free' Trade: NAFTA's Failure has Cost the United States Jobs Across the Nation

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Publication Date: November 2003

Publisher(s): Economic Policy Institute

Author(s): Robert E. Scott

Topic: Labor (Employment and labor supply)
Trade (Free trade and protection)

Type: Brief

Abstract:

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed in 1993, the rise in the U.S. trade deficit with Canada and Mexico through 2002 has caused the displacement of production that supported 879,280 U.S. jobs. Most of those lost jobs were high-wage positions in manufacturing industries.

The loss of these jobs is just the most visible tip of NAFTA's impact on the U.S. economy. In fact, NAFTA has also contributed to rising income inequality, suppressed real wages for production workers, weakened workers' collective bargaining powers and ability to organize unions, and reduced fringe benefits.

NAFTA is a free trade and investment agreement that provided investors with a unique set of guarantees designed to stimulate foreign direct investment and the movement of factories within the hemisphere, especially from the United States to Canada and Mexico. Furthermore, no protections were contained in the core of the agreement to maintain labor or environmental standards. As a result, NAFTA tilted the economic playing field in favor of investors, and against workers and the environment, resulting in a hemispheric "race to the bottom" in wages and environmental quality.