The major political theme that is being played out across elections is nativism and distrust of foreign trade agreements. In Europe, this led the British to make a surprise exit from the European Union (EU) after a ballot referendum, and in the U.S. anti-free trade rhetoric has given rise to candidates such as Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders, who have voiced their strong opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). With Britain beginning the process of leaving the EU, and the U.
S. leaving NAFTA as early as February, it makes sense to consider the structure of each agreement concerning elected representation, the environment, global minimum wage, and the death penalty.
Between the NAFTA and the EU, NAFTA is much more static and lacks a strong formal institutional structure, “NAFTA’s legislative and executive institutions were designed to have little substance. To be sure, NAFTA boasts an executive body… but this commission has no staff, no address, and no budget… Nor does NAFTA have much in the way of an administrative arm.
”1 In contrast to NAFTA’s nearly non-existent central authority is thEU’sUs robust legislative, executive, and judicial institutions, which include the European Commission, European Parliament, and European Court of Justice. These institutions help to keep the EU working and resolve any conflicts that might arise between member nations.
In keeping with Europe’s perception as being more environmentally conscious than the United States, the European Union contains many strong economic protections, “It calls for ‘high levels of environmental and public health protection’ and improving environmental laws and policies.
” But NAFTA’s environment policy is little more than calling for each country’s environmental policies to be followed, and even that is inconsistent, “Despite an anticipated rise in pollution levels, NAFTA did nothing to strengthen Mexico’s environmental protections. Enforcement of environmental protections declined noticeably after NAFTA, and is often ignored by both corporations and the Mexican government.” It isn’t fair to blame this entirely on NAFTA, but the structure of NAFTA lends itself to letting environmental violations be ignored.
When it comes to having a minimum wage, NAFTA lacks any formal structure of requirements and, as would be expected, has done little for wages, though it appears to have had a very minor positive impact even absent formal requirements, “Despite the ruckus, the agreement seems to have done some good, according to the study. Between 1993 and 2005, NAFTA raised inflation-adjusted wages by 0.17 percent in the United States, by 0.96 percent in Canada, and by 1.30 percent in Mexico.”4 The story is similar to the EU which has resisted efforts to set a European minimum wage.
Similarly, with the environment, the EU has much stronger provisions on capital punishment than NAFTA. Capital punishment is prohibited for EU member nations and is a prerequisite for admission into the union. With NAFTA the story is more mixed. NAFTA doesn’t include any language formally taking a position, and while it is illegal in Mexico and Canada, capital punishment is still practiced in the United States. This can be interpreted as giving complicit support to capital punishment, but a stronger interpretation is that NAFTA simply hasn’t, and wasn’t meant to change the U.S. policy on the death penalty.
Reviewing the two agreements from afar, they have their points of distinction and similarity. While it will be interesting to see how Britain’s exit from the European Union will proceed, the differences between NAFTA and the EU limit its applicability as a case study for those who favor withdrawing from NAFTA.