Almost 20 years later, what are NAFTA's effects?

Almost 20 years later, what are NAFTA’s effects?

Has NAFTA been a success or a failure? The answer to that affects not only free trade, but the willingness of leaders to back future treaties.

That thought occurred to me as I read an article about the North American Free Trade Agreement. The story in the Tucson Sentinel points out what may be true about any such agreement: Some like it, and others don’t. As the article opens:

“Two decades after a pact initiated here created the world’s largest free trade area, economists are calling the North American Free Trade Agreement a resounding success, crediting it for fueling unprecedented trade and creating millions of jobs in the United States.”

“The agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, ratified 19 years ago Saturday, also made two of Texas’ land ports among the country’s busiest and delivered a multitrillion-dollar cumulative gross domestic product for its member countries.”

“But unions and consumer-advocacy groups say NAFTA has had negative effects in Mexico and the U.S. They say that resulting outsourcing and lower wages have hurt the United States’ domestic economy and that Mexico’s rural industries have destabilized.”

The complete news story is here.

Unlike many other treaties, though, NAFTA was a high-profile battle—not entirely resolved—and it affects us right here in the United States. That element, probably more than anything else, distinguishes it from the mass of agreements that Americans may barely notice. And that lack of notice is what may often give political cover to Senators exercising their advice and consent; Americans barely notice international affairs, especially those far from our shores.

But maybe the NAFTA effect is having a worldwide impact. That occurred to me as I read some fascinating and well-executed analyses of an important international development: the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.

The analyses were published last week in the New York Times, and they included voices on both sides of the debate. The lead piece was by Georgetown Law Visiting Professor Catherine Powell, and here’s how it opened:

“Tuesday’s vote on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities was a disappointing moment for the U.S. Senate. Turning its back on a bipartisan approach to assuring disability rights forged under the landmark 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, which was signed by President George H.W. Bush, the Senate capitulated to the worst fear-mongering tactics related to individual choice and American sovereignty. Neither would have been limited by this treaty.”

You can read all the viewpoints here.

A hat tip to Suhrith Parthasarathy, a writer on the legal blog of Thomson Reuters, who brought my attention to the New York Times package. (You can follow him at @Suhrith).

There may be a lot of reasons for the failure of agreement on the Persons With Disabilities Convention. But perhaps the queasiness about international treaties goes back a few decades, to NAFTA, ratified 19 years ago.

What do you think? Has one close-to-home pact that had public backlash soured Senators on agreeing to politically charged pacts?