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Bring Multilateral, Regional, and Bilateral Trade Policies Into the Public Realm

Trade agreements like NAFTA and institutions like the WTO promised to create new jobs. Since NAFTA, new maquiladora plants near the U.S.-Mexico border hired about 500,000 Mexican workers, yet 1.4 million Mexican jobs have been lost since 1994. Meanwhile, the cost of living in Mexico has tripled, and average wages are 27 percent lower. Yet, the nations of the South are not the only victims of this process. There is also a "South in the North" right here in the U.S. While NAFTA promised 250,000 new jobs each year, between 1994-2000, the U.S. is reported to have lost over 3.2 million jobs.

UNDP Human Development Report 1999 argued that the present era of economic globalization, driven by competitive global markets, is outpacing the governance of markets and the repercussions on people's lives. Recent polls demonstrate widespread disenchantment with free trade policies around the world. It is widely recognized that untrammeled free trade polices are the driving force behind growing inequality, both within and among nations.

Despite this mounting evidence, there is a frenzied growth of bilateral, regional, and multilateral trade negotiations which are shrouded in secrecy, carried out in a non-transparent and cavalier way, enabling the proponents of economic globalization to make crucial decisions with no participation from those most directly affected by their outcome.

Member countries to these trade agreements have existing human rights commitments and obligations under international treaties and conventions. As a consequence, these states, as well as the larger community of states, have an important regulatory role and responsibility to ensure that economic policies and practices do not undermine their human rights commitments. This is a legal obligation and not merely a policy option.

The Oakland Institute is active in several international coalitions and networks including Our World is Not For Sale, International Forum on Globalization, 50 Years is Enough, and California Coalition for Fair Trade and Human Rights, and provides research, analysis, and creates venues for public participation, so policies are not drafted without the consent of those most affected.