On May 26–28, a gathering of social justice advocates and organizations from Canada, the United States and Mexico took place in Mexico City to discuss alternatives to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This meeting took place at the same time as government representatives from those same three countries met in Mexico City to have discussions of their own about the renegotiation of NAFTA.
Networks from Canada representing labour unions, Indigenous Peoples, women’s groups, farmers, migrant groups, environmentalists and other international solidarity groups joined their American and Mexican counterparts to discuss the adverse effects of the current global economic model. The goal was to offer a grassroots response that would ensure participation by citizens of each nation.
The summit participants issued a communiqué calling on the three governments to rethink how they negotiate any changes to the current agreement.
“The renegotiation process has to be transparent and participatory, and any NAFTA replacement must ensure respect for human rights, improve peoples’ lives and livelihoods, and protect the environment of all three countries,” said Ronald Cameron, coordinator of the Réseau Québécois sur l’intégration continentale.
The summit participants also highlighted the growing disparity between the rich and the poor that has grown in each country since NAFTA came into effect in 1994. “Since the implementation of NAFTA, we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in profits, and economic inequality in Canada,” said Raul Burbano, Program Director for Common Frontiers. “It’s time for alternatives to the current neoliberal free trade model.”
One of the groups represented at this summit was the Tri-National Coalition for the Defense of Public Education, an organization that OSSTF/FEESO supports. The Coalition and other public education stakeholders in the Western Hemisphere have been outspoken about the encroachment of private sector interests into publicly funded education systems, which includes the contracting out of curriculum development and performance appraisals to multi-national corporations, such as Pearson International. Free trade agreements have the potential to open the door to private corporations that wish to encroach on public education by setting up private education systems that would compete for public dollars, such as charter schools.