Promises, Promises: Promoting, Debating, And Living With NAFTA
Grossi, Erin Waldron
The purpose of this study is to deepen scholarly understanding of the ways that the historical realities of the US-Mexico commercial relationship continue to manifest themselves in modern times. It is nothing short of ironic that two countries sharing an extensive border and having many shared economic and security interests have not yet managed to foster a truly positive and mutually beneficial political and economic relationship. The US-Mexico border fence continues to be built-out and reinforced, and the two societies continue to publicly point fingers at each other over shared problems like immigration and drug violence. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), arguably the most prominent symbol of US-Mexico relations in the modern era, is often the target of criticism for failing to achieve the grandiose milestones for the relationship that were outlined in political rhetoric by leaders on both sides of the border as it was negotiated. While remaining largely ignorant to the actual terms laid out in the NAFTA text, mainstream society on both sides tends to believe the other economy benefited from the agreement, at their expense.This thesis elaborates on and explains some of these ironies, by examining the perspectives on both sides of the border at some essential points in modern history. The first is the years leading up to the signing of the NAFTA when the hopes and fears of an expanded US-Mexico relationship were outlined by politicians, the second is the lead-up to the elections of Presidents George W. Bush in the United States and Vicente Fox in Mexico in 2000 when ideas about a possible North American Union were raised and seriously discussed, and the third is the most recent timeframe (2008 financial crisis until the present) which has most clearly demonstrated the character of US-Mexico commercial relations in the post-NAFTA environment. The methodology employed is an examination of what Americans and Mexicans of various walks of life (political leaders, corporate representatives, general laborers, farmers, etc.) were saying about each other at these moments, in particular what they were articulating they most hoped or feared about the evolving bilateral relationship in the late 1990s, early 2000s, and then 2008 to the present day.The thesis concludes that the lead-up to the NAFTA and the lead-up to the Bush-Fox elections were both essential moments of opportunity for the United States and Mexico to forge a productive and mutually beneficial relationship. In those moments, there were two different sets of expectations on either side of the border about what this relationship should look like and accomplish over time. It is clear that, in both cases, the countries failed to address and come to terms with social elements of the relationship, which has had a negative impact for all, but especially for Mexico. The militarized border, drug violence and resulting instability in Mexico are now enduring fixtures of the relationship today, reminding us that the vast economic divide that existed between the two countries before the NAFTA was penned were too compelling to have gone unaddressed. Today, Mexico’s economic opportunities are firmly affixed to the tides of the US economy, while the United States has a variety of other commercial interests that it has prioritized above Mexico, including Asia (e.g. China) and various on-going security challenges in the Middle East.The thesis further concludes that, in order to properly address on-going shared social issues between the United States and Mexico, political leaders on both sides will have to agree once more to make the regional relationship and alliance a priority. In addition to the action President Barack Obama took on immigration in 2015, it is time that the United States acknowledged itself as service economy that is heavily dependent on foreign labor and thus move to raise the currently unrealistic numerical caps on non-agricultural temporary workers. The United States can also make the current program for temporary agricultural workers less onerous for employers and more attractive to workers. The two countries could also state as a policy goal the creation of a Customs Union with common external tariffs, which would begin with industry-wide agreements. They might also consider creating a financial stabilization fund with contributions from the three governments to be drawn upon in case of serious exchange rate fluctuations in the future. Proposals to jointly plan and fund international highways, border crossing points and ports are also promising and worth considering. In addition, plans to develop a North American electrical grid and facilitate the permitting procedures for cross-border electricity lines and gas and oil pipelines in a manner similar to what the European Union does would also make a lot of economic sense for both sides. The most important suggestion of all to facilitate greater cooperation in the region, which seems to be inevitable, is for political leaders in North America to offer a unified vision of the future to their citizens. The vision need not be complete in every detail, but it must offer the hope of a future in which the three countries will live their national lives in greater cooperation with their neighbors.
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