NAFTA: Nothing to do
with free trade

For the past several months, a lively debate has been taking place in the U.S. regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Former President George Bush signed the agreement with Canada and Mexico in December of 1992. The three-nation pact set out to eliminate tariffs and restrictions that supposedly hamper the free flow of goods, services and investments among the three countries. As the agreement stands now, it remains for Congress to approve it, after which it is expected to take effect in January 1994. Both the Canadian and Mexican governments have already approved the agreement.

This would create the world's largest trading bloc. According to the U.S. government, 370 million people would produce $6 trillion in goods and services.

The Clinton administration has for all intents and purposes okayed the agreement. Clinton has qualified his support by asking for side agreements on the environment and labor rights -- agreements that, incidentally, are not enforceable.

Plans for NAFTA were laid back in 1980. While still on the campaign trail, Ronald Reagan said he "dreamed of a common market stretching from the Yukon to the Yucatan." George Bush in 1990, while making plans to further expand the free trade agreement with Canada, foresaw the day when the countries of North, Central and South America would all be "coequal partners in a free trade zone stretching from the port of Anchorage to Tierra del Fuego." Perhaps he drew on the same speech writers.

NAFTA extends only beyond the Rio Grande to Mexico. It's hardly a pact between "equal partners."

Pact between oppressed and oppressor

No agreement between the U.S. and a Third World nation can be characterized as between equal partners. NAFTA must be recognized as an agreement between an oppressed nation and two oppressor nations, with Canada the junior partner of the U.S. Mexico has historically been dominated by U.S. finance capital. NAFTA will not change this.

Mexico was brought in for the U.S. to further dominate the economy, and to be used in the imperialist trade war against Japan and other rivals of U.S. imperialism.

Despite the fact that NAFTA was put together as a response to the economic crisis, it nonetheless may become obsolete even before it is to pass.

A June 1993 court ruling reflected the politically turbulent waters the agreement is in. A federal judge ruled that the Clinton administration must conduct a study on the environmental impact of NAFTA, which could delay the pact for some years.

Like the Uruguay Rounds -- the seven-year-long GATT negotiations for a new global agreement to reduce trade and investment barriers -- NAFTA is also in jeopardy. It stands to be derailed in the same way the GATT talks have been. NAFTA could get so badly delayed that it becomes a dead letter, unenforceable and inoperable.

But whether the agreement comes to fruition or not, it reflects hard times for U.S. capitalists, who are faced with an economic crisis of historical proportions. They find themselves at a loss, stumbling to find solutions, groping for answers -- but in reality finding it next to impossible to develop a program to get out of the morass.

NAFTA also opens up a real question for Marxists and progressives everywhere. And that is the concept of free trade itself.

Wasn't free trade established long ago?

Wasn't free trade supposed to have been established by the bourgeois revolutions hundreds of years ago? When feudalism existed there were all kinds of taxes and tolls. Capitalism was supposed to have abolished these restrictions. Isn't unrestrained trade what free enterprise is all about -- isn't that why they call it the free "market"?

In reality, free trade is impossible because of capitalist competition and monopoly. As soon as feudalism was overthrown, capitalists immediately established their own restrictions. Every factory owner, every capitalist wanted a competitive edge and would cut their own throats to get it.

Lenin wrote in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism:

Half a century ago when Marx was writing Capital free competition appeared to the overwhelming majority of economists to be a natural law... . [Marx] had proved that free competition gives rise to the concentration of production which in turn leads to monopoly. Economists continue to declare that Marxism is refuted. But the facts show that differences between capitalist countries, in the matter of protection or free trade, only give rise to insignificant variations in the form of monopolies. ...

These monopolies do not want "free trade." They want the freedom to exploit and make more profits. The failure of the G-7 meetings to relieve the antagonisms that exist among them is proof positive that every one of the big capitalist countries is trying to maximize its markets, investment opportunities and profits. The deeper the economic crisis, the sharper the competition and the more open the hostilities.

Free trade and war

When the ruling class shows such enthusiasm for free trade, workers everywhere should remember the horrible wars that have been conducted in Latin America, Asia, Africa and elsewhere to push the so-called free market system. Millions of workers and oppressed people have died as imperialism rampaged the world in the name of free markets. Loss of independence and sovereignty resulted -- all for profits.

NAFTA cannot be isolated from the historical process by which the "free" capitalist market was established worldwide. NAFTA is one of many supplemental agreements meant to deepen and widen the financial interests of the U.S. and Canadian monopolies into the countries south of the border, especially Mexico. If it becomes a dead letter, it is only because of the profound antagonisms that exist between the U.S. ruling class and its junior partner, Canada.


U.S. imperialism has a supreme position in all of Latin America with respect to trade and commerce. Virtually none of the governments there are now capable of restricting the U.S.'s economic encroachments.

Latin America and all oppressed nations have every right to establish normal economic and political relations with whomever they want, including the U.S. Mexico is no exception. It has every right to negotiate with the U.S. government. It expects desperately needed U.S. investment and dollars to flow into the country once trade barriers fall. Mexican businesses have joined with the government to spend over $25 million to lobby the U.S. Congress for NAFTA's passage.

But as long as the capitalist system robs Mexico of its surplus value, denies it high technology and provides loans for debt and not for development, Mexico will remain a super-exploited neo-colony of the U.S.

No free trade with Cuba

Finally, U.S. officials talk lavishly about free trade while they continue to unabashedly deny Cuba's right to trade.

It is only too well known what desperate measures the U.S. has taken to deprive Cuba of its right to conduct its own economic, political, diplomatic affairs. It should be a top priority for workers in the U.S. to fiercely fight to get the U.S. blockade of Cuba lifted. It is time to end isolation and containment of Cuba by the U.S. government.

The U.S. and Canada want to establish a trade bloc of unprecedented portions that would only intensify the exploitation of the workers in all the countries concerned. These plans should be countered by workers' international solidarity. Cooperative agreements among workers in the imperialist countries with a common approach toward the exploiters would be an stoppable force.

These plans must take into account the fact that Latin American workers and workers throughout the Third World are doubly oppressed -- not only by their own bourgeoisie but by the imperialist powers. No collective solidarity is possible without this recognition.

Teresa Gutierrez
Workers World, July 22, 1993

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