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The Future of North American Trade Policy:
Lessons From NAFTA

The Future of North American Trade PolicyPardee Center Task Force Report No.1, November 2009

The Task Force was convened by Kevin P. Gallagher, Enrique Dussel Peters, and Timothy A. Wise with Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future

Download a the full Task Force Report or the individual chapters

Download the full Spanish version of the report, El futuro de la política de comercio en América del Norte: Lecciones del TLCAN.

View details events for the launch of the Spanish report in Mexico.

Download a summary of the report in English or Spanish


Seventeen years after NAFTA was enacted, there is widespread agreement that the trade treaty among the United States, Canada and Mexico has fallen short of its stated goals. While proponents credit the agreement with stimulating the flow of goods, services, and investment among the North American countries, critics in all three countries argue that this has not brought improvements in the standards of living of most people. Rather than triggering a convergence across the three nations, NAFTA has accentuated the economic and regulatory asymmetries that had existed prior to the agreement.

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama stated, “I voted against CAFTA, never supported NAFTA, and will not support NAFTA-style trade agreements in the future.” President Barack Obama has retreated from that promise, and the administration now backs Bush-era trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. The administration is also negotiating the largest U.S. trade agreement since NAFTA, the so-called TransPacific Partnership (TPP) with a wide range of Pacific nations.

What lessons does NAFTA offer for these new agreements? To answer that question, GDAE teamed with Boston University's Pardee Center to convene a task force on North American trade policy. The eight members, all from North American countries, are experts in their fields. Each offered a detailed critique of NAFTA's provisions in his or her area of expertise, suggesting the kinds of reforms that would be needed to make such an agreement one that promotes long-term, inclusive, sustainable development for all parties.

The publication is intended to contribute to the discussion and decisions related to future trade agreements. It offers detailed proposals on topics including services, manufacturing, agriculture, investment, intellectual property, labor, environment, and migration.

The Task Force recommendations detailed in the report include:

  • NAFTA and the other trade agreements based on the NAFTA template need deep reform. These changes must go beyond the important but limited 2007 bipartisan agreement in the U.S. Congress on modest reforms to labor, environment, and intellectual property provisions, which have been incorporated into recent agreements.
  • Trade agreements need to address the asymmetries among trading partners with well-funded institutions. NAFTA established some important institutions, but they have been given neither the mandate nor the funding to allow them to help make Mexico a more equal economic partner.
  • NAFTA’s services chapter may deter local, state, and national governments from implementing new laws to address climate change. NAFTA currently lacks assurances that good faith regulations to protect public welfare will not be challenged by private interests.
  • Investment chapters allow foreign investors to sue governments for actions that impede profits, even if they are taken in the public interest. Reforms must limit the use of such measures, improve accountability, and remove the threat to governments.
  • Reforms on the environment need to go beyond those in the US-Peru agreement, including key provisions on intellectual property, investment, services, and agriculture to raise environmental standards and improve enforcement.
  • A trade agreement is no substitute for a coherent national development strategy. Developing countries should learn from Mexico’s experience under NAFTA that increasing trade and foreign investment will not alone generate dynamic economic development.

The Pardee Center Task Force on North American Trade Policy convened at Boston University in March 2009 and included participants from Canada, Mexico and the United States who work in various disciplines, contributing many perspectives and a range of policy options for the longer-range future of trade in North America.

The Task Force Members, each of whom contributed a chapter to the report, include:

  • Kevin P. Gallagher, Associate Professor in the International Relations Department at Boston University and a Pardee Center Faculty Fellow (Co-convener)
  • Timothy A. Wise, Director of the Research and Policy Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University (Co-convener)
  • Enrique Dussel Peters, Professor in the Graduate School of Economics at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Co-convener)
  • Rodolfo García Zamora, Professor of Development Studies at the University of Zacatecas, Mexico
  • Kenneth C. Shadlen, Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics
  • Robert K. Stumberg, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center
  • Gus Van Harten, Associate Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University
  • Christian E. Weller, Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Download the full Task Force Report or the individual chapters

Download the list of Task Force Recommendations.

Download a summary of the report in English or Spanish

Download the Spanish Version of the full report.

Read a summary of the report launch at the Carnegie Endowment.

Watch a video discussion of the main findings from the Task Force

See also: Rethinking Trade Policy for Development: Lessons from Mexico Under NAFTA, released by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

See also: U.S. Trade Policy: Still Waiting for a "21st Century Trade Agreement," by Timothy A. Wise and Kevin P. Gallagher, LATN Brief, August, 2011.

Read more on GDAE's ten years of work on Lessons from NAFTA

 

Report Chapters

NAFTA Services and Climate Change, by Robert K. Stumberg, Chapter 1, Pardee Center Task Force Report, Boston University, November 2009. Download Spanish chapter.

Manufacturing Competitiveness: Toward a Regional Development Agenda, by Enrique Dussel Peters, Chapter 2, Pardee Center Task Force Report, Boston University, November 2009. Download Spanish chapter.

Reforming NAFTA’s Agricultural Provisions, by Timothy A. Wise, Chapter 3, Pardee Center Task Force Report, Boston University, November 2009. Download Spanish chapter.

Reforming the NAFTA Investment Regime, by Gus Van Harten, Chapter 4, Pardee Center Task Force Report, Boston University, November 2009. Download Spanish chapter.

Intellectual Property for Development in Mexico, by Kenneth C. Shadlen, Chapter 5, Pardee Center Task Force Report, Boston University, November 2009. Download Spanish chapter.

NAFTA and the Environment: Lessons from Mexico and Beyond, by Kevin P. Gallagher, Chapter 6, Pardee Center Task Force Report, Boston University, November 2009. Download Spanish chapter.

Rethinking Labor Rights, by Christian E. Weller, Chapter 7, Pardee Center Task Force Report, Boston University, November 2009. Download Spanish chapter.

Migration Under NAFTA: Exporting Goods and People, by Rodolfo García Zamora, Chapter 8, Pardee Center Task Force Report, Boston University, November 2009. Download Spanish chapter.


The Global Development and Environment Institute’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program examines the economic, social and environmental impacts of economic integration in developing countries, with a particular emphasis on the WTO and NAFTA's lessons for trade and development policy. The goal of the program is to identify policies and international agreements that foster sustainable development.

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