As Battle Over NAFTA 2.0 Heats Up, New Report Documents 25 Years of NAFTA's Disproportionate Damage to U.S. Latino and Mexican Working People

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the signing of the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on Nov. 30 as the migrant crisis at the border escalates, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) and Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch released a timely analysis of the North American Free Trade Agreement’s (NAFTA) disproportionate damage to U.S. Latinos and Mexican workers, and whether the NAFTA 2.0 deal would stop it.

“While President Trump’s manipulation of grievances over trade and immigration brought him to power, absent from his worldview is the reality that NAFTA was developed by and for multinational corporations seeking to pay workers less and has hurt both U.S. and Mexican workers,” said Hector Sanchez, executive director of LCLAA at a Press Club event today. “Indeed, NAFTA’s destruction of millions of Mexican small farmers’ livelihoods and the pact’s race-to-the-bottom wage incentives have pushed many in Mexico to search for work outside their home country.”

Titled “Fracaso: NAFTA’s Disproportionate Damage to U.S. Latino and Mexican Working People,” the report’s findings upend President Donald Trump’s xenophobic NAFTA narrative that blames Mexican workers for harming U.S. workers. The report’s analysis of the NAFTA 2.0 text in the context of the ongoing NAFTA-related damage to Mexican and U.S. workers alike spotlights why further improvements are necessary before a final NAFTA 2.0 deal can achieve broad support in Congress next year. The report was produced through a partnership that united LCLAA’s decades of advocacy for Latinos and Public Citizen’s decades of analysis of trade pacts and their impacts.

“NAFTA not only didn’t deliver on its proponents’ rosy promises of more jobs and higher wages, but its ongoing damage ended decades of bipartisan congressional consensus in favor of trade pacts,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “For a final NAFTA 2.0 package to get through Congress next year, the signed deal will need more work so its labor standards are subject to swift and certain enforcement and the other improvements are made to stop NAFTA’s ongoing job outsourcing, downward pressure on wages and environmental damage.”

The data on NAFTA’s disproportionately negative effect on both Mexican and U.S. working people undermine Trump’s nationalist critique while also spotlighting why more-of-the-same neoliberal NAFTA policies are equally unacceptable. Among the report’s findings:

• Government-certified NAFTA job loss has been greatest in regions where the U.S. Latino population is concentrated. The 15 states where 85 percent of Latinos reside account for nearly half (46 percent) of total NAFTA job loss certified under just the narrow Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

• Latino workers were disproportionately represented in the light manufacturing industries hit hardest by the outsourcing NAFTA incentivized. Latinos lost 138,000 jobs in the apparel and textile sector and 123,000 jobs in the U.S. electronics industry during the NAFTA era.

• As NAFTA eliminated U.S. manufacturing jobs, the related wage stagnation for workers without college educations across all industries hit Latinos asymmetrically. Rather than the Latino-white pay gap closing, it increased during the NAFTA years.

• For Mexican workers, increased investment and trade with the United States failed to translate into per capita income growth or rising wages in Mexico. Annual per capita income grew less than 2 percent in the first seven years of NAFTA and less than 1 percent thereafter.

• Real average annual wages have declined in Mexico under NAFTA. According to analysis by Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, manufacturing wages in Mexico are now 40 percent lower than in China. Prior to NAFTA, Mexican auto wages were five times lower than in the United States. Today, even as U.S. wages have stagnated, Mexican auto wages are nine times lower

• NAFTA devastated Mexico’s rural sector. Amid a NAFTA-spurred influx of subsidized U.S. corn, about 2 million Mexicans engaged in farming and related work lost their livelihoods.

• With millions of Mexicans displaced from rural communities competing for the hundreds of thousands of new manufacturing jobs outsourced from the United States, and a lack of independent unions in Mexico to bargain for better wages, employers could keep wages reprehensibly low. Overall, in real terms average annual Mexican wages are down 2 percent and the minimum wage down 14 percent from pre-NAFTA levels.

• As NAFTA destroyed Mexican livelihoods and displaced millions in rural Mexico, it became a powerful push factor for migration. From 1993, the year before NAFTA, to 2000, annual immigration from Mexico increased from 370,000 to 770,000. With annual immigration on the rise, the total number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico living in the United States increased from about 2.9 million in 1995 to 4.5 million in 2000 to 6.9 million by 2007 when the financial crisis limited job opportunities and slowed migration rates.

• Nearly 28,000 small- and medium-sized Mexican businesses were destroyed in NAFTA’s first four years alone, spurring the El Barzon movement of formerly middle-class Mexican entrepreneurs protesting NAFTA. Losses included many retail, food processing and light manufacturing firms that were displaced by NAFTA’s new opening for U.S. big-box retailers that sold goods imported from Asia.
This report makes clear that neither status-quo neoliberalism nor Trump’s anti-Mexico nationalism is in the interest of working people in the United States or Mexico.

“Tens of millions of Mexican and U.S. Latino workers have been hurt by NAFTA – from the factory worker in El Paso, Texas, who lost her livelihood making blue jeans after the apparel industry moved to Mexico to take advantage of low wages, to the Mexican farmer in Chiapas who can barely make ends meet as the prices paid for his corn plummeted after subsidized U.S. corn flowed into Mexican markets after NAFTA,” said Yanira Merina, national president of LCLAA. “It is the future of these workers, their families and their communities that will be determined by whether there is a new NAFTA deal that can raise wages and replace NAFTA’s race to the bottom with fair trade.”

“NAFTA 2.0 labor enforcement must be greatly strengthened,” said Guillermo Perez, labor educator at the United Steelworkers and president of the Pittsburgh LCLAA. “It is in the interest of workers in all three countries to ensure that Mexico adopts strong workers’ rights provisions and monitors and enforces their implementation. Workers in Mexico must be able to form labor organizations and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions to stop downward pressure on wages in Canada and the United States.”

“Trade agreements like NAFTA, which are not fair and leave workers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico out in the cold, have caused immense pain and disruption in the lives of everyday working people in all three countries. The NAFTA 2.0 that was signed will not stop the wage suppression in Mexico and the related outsourcing from the U.S. and Canada. Our future, the future of manufacturing and the future of workers’ lives depends on getting trade policy right,” said Dora Cervantes, general secretary-treasurer at the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.

The full report is available here.