Our local MP Colin Mayes has written his own interpretation of trade history, (History proves value of trade agreements, Friday, October 26, 2012) revising information, taking it out of context, and erroneously equating a co-relationship with cause and effect.
He begins by equating trade with the increase in life expectancy of the U.K. when compared to China. The argument implies that because China did not trade with the U.K. in the 1600s, their life expectancy stayed very low while that of the U.K. doubled by the 1800s.
Statistically the numbers may be true. But in context, China in the early 1800s was riven by revolts of the Han against the Hanchu dynasty that had invaded much earlier from the north. At the same time, this was the era of European imperialism demanding access – via ‘gunboat diplomacy’ – to open markets with China. These combined wars and imperial quests resulted in an estimated 20 million deaths, a figure that assuredly lowers life expectancy.
In Europe on the other hand, centuries of plagues and internecine Christian wars had given way to increased sanitation and an increased wealth gathered from overseas colonies by the imperial powers of the day.
As for trade with the U.K. it was hardly a free liberal deal. The imperial British made sure that all trade worked in their favour, with cheap labour and resources from the colonies supporting industrial growth at home. Trade was not free, and if history is read correctly there is no country in the world that became rich without protecting its own home grown industries against incursions – military, financial, or political – from other countries.
Modern China is successful because of trade, but not with the “free” trade agreements as presented today. China is successful because it protected its major industries and when the U.S. and other corporate nations wanted their cheap labour, the Chinese made sure they obtained advantages in technology and finance with those deals.
Modern trade agreements are essentially non-democratic rules written by corporations in collusion with politicians in order to allow the corporations to make as much profit as possible without government ‘interference’ ( e.g. with laws protecting the environment, work and safety conditions, social service benefits) that would affect their profit margin.
The NAFTA agreement has been a disaster for Mexico and has been shown to be neutral or negative on its effects within Canada. Wages have remained stagnant. Productivity measures have declined. Well-paying work has decreased while low-wage work has increased. Social safety nets, in particular unemployment insurance benefits, have been weakened.
Mr. Mayes presents some wonderful economic figures for trade, and trade is indeed financially beneficial to some. However, the modern day free trade agreements (CETA, NAFTA, the proposed TPP) are designed to have corporate rules dominate sovereignty, and to permit the “race to the bottom” for wages, social services, and environmental concerns.
Mr Mayes ends his column arguing that these agreements “need to protect the best interests of Canadian values, the environment and the economy.” In actuality, they do none of the three. “Canadian values” is just a nice sound bite; the environment is ignored and indeed downgraded; and the economy, while perhaps better for the elites, tends to remain stagnant at best for the workers.
Trade between nations is valuable, but it should be fair trade for labour, environmental protections, and social services, not as it currently exists in its “race to the bottom” formulation.