Forced Migration and Free Trade

Forced Migration and Free Trade

As TPP talks continue this week in Washington, DC, communities across the U.S. are working to shed light on the consequences of unjust trade. On Tuesday, the LA County Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), Workers Defense Project, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Casa de Maryland and Casa de Virginia, and Center for Community Change released a statement on the connections between forced migration and corporate trade policy — and called on the President and Congress to acknowledge them.

Read their statement below, and help spread the word (links are available in English and Spanish). You can also find a fact sheet here.

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STATEMENT ON MIGRATION AND TRADE

While the factors that shape forced migration are numerous, one of the leading causes of the forced migration of people from Mexico and Central American countries to the United States is corporate trade policy. The dominant trade agenda has been defined by the insistence upon deregulation and privatization as the key to economic growth. The benefits of U.S. “free trade”agreements flow to the global 1%, while the global 99% have been pushed to take ever more extreme measures to survive.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negatively disrupted Mexican agriculture as U.S. corporate farms exported subsidized corn. Two million Mexicans were forced from their land between 1993 and 2005. Some of the dislocated found work in low wage maquiladora factories, but many more crossed our border and entered the United States trying to survive. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of people leaving Mexico for the U.S. went from 370,000 annually in 1993 to 770,000 annually in 2000.

A similar story surrounds the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) countries— labor rights are attacked and the agricultural economy is being destroyed. Repression against community activists and workers trying to raise their wages through organizing unions and collective bargaining is swift and harsh. Too many children are forced from their homes because their parents’ livelihoods have disappeared and violence is rampant.

U.S. trade negotiators fail to address this cycle of despair. In current trade negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TPP-FTA), the U.S. government de-emphasizes labor and human rights, while lifting up corporate rights through Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. The U.S. supports extra-legal tribunals where corporations may pursue claims of lost profits.

Worse still, the Administration wants to “fast track” a vote on new trade agreements, a process that if adopted, would require an up or down vote on the Administration’s proposal without amendments within 60 days. We should fast track an immigration bill. We should fast track a jobs bill, unemployment benefits, climate change legislation and voting rights. We must fast track solutions for children who have been forced to migrate and arrive at our border.

Corporate trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA increase pressure on hard working people to migrate. NAFTA and CAFTA have led to the displacement of workers and to their subsequent migration. For example, inequality has increased in both Guatemala and Honduras over the past decade. Real wages in El Salvador actually decreased between 2004 and 2011. The majority of jobs in Central America remain in the informal sector, with no benefits and no safety net. Nearly two-thirds of people in Honduras live in poverty—the top 10% earn 55 times more than the poorest 10%. If another trade agreement with provisions like those contained in NAFTA and CAFTA is passed, it will increase inequality and exacerbate conditions that force people to migrate.

We call on the President and Congress of the United States to recognize the role that unbalanced trade has played in disrupting societies and economies all around the world. There cannot be “fast track” for the 1% and special legal tribunals to resolve corporate disputes, while millions of working families suffer. Our trade policies must come to grips with its impact on our trading partners and the unintended consequences of forced migration.