The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was radically different from past trade deals that focused on traditional trade matters, like cutting border taxes. Instead, most of NAFTA’s provisions granted new powers and privileges to multinational corporations and limited governments’ right to enforce strong consumer and environmental protections.
NAFTA renegotiations could be an opportunity to fix this power imbalance, by replacing the corporate protections with new terms that benefit workers and consumers. But multinational corporations, like global monopolist Amazon and data-mining giants Facebook and Google, are trying to use NAFTA renegotiations to lock in new powers and protections on issues the original NAFTA did not even cover, such as e-commerce and internet governance. Their goal is to establish NAFTA rules that stop governments from creating new domestic policies to protect their citizens’ privacy, personal data and security as new technologies emerge. These mega corporations have considerable sway over officials in all three NAFTA nations.
As a result, under the guise of “modernizing” the 24-year-old agreement, officials from the United States, Canada and Mexico are negotiating new “digital trade” rules that mirror dangerous “electronic commerce” provisions that were included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP, a corporate-dominated deal that was vehemently opposed by unions, environmental organizations, consumer groups, digital rights advocates and more, could never achieve majority support in Congress. So now the corporate interests have turned to the NAFTA talks to try to revive their TPP agenda. Disturbingly, the corporate-friendly “digital trade” rules being pushed for NAFTA have received almost no public attention and have been moving quickly.
The internet is a growing, evolving marketplace. Governments must have the ability, now and in the future, to regulate it and protect consumers without having their hands tied by so-called “trade” agreements. But if the Big Tech companies and Wall Street have their way, the digital trade rules in the NAFTA renegotiations will be another encroachment of corporate control over our daily lives.