Foreign Trade In 90s The advances of the technological revolution have molded the evolution of the United States foreign trade in the 1990s and into the new millennium. Globalization has become the credo for the Clinton administration, and the booming American economy has done nothing but strongly bolster this approach. Globalizations foothold in American policy really began in the much-debated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was finally passed in 1994. NAFTA specifically said one of its goals was to “contribute to the harmonious development and expansion of world trade and provide a catalyst to broader international cooperation”. However at the time that was hardly the case.
But harmonious was the last word used to describe the conflict that followed, with labor unions fiercely opposed to losing American jobs to a borderless North American economy and right wing Republicans equally opposed to the anti-isolationism this bill offered. The Democratic Clinton administration had to buck its own Democratic stronghold in Labor, to support this agreement. However, it would be one of the chief foreign trade accomplishments of the last decade. Its undoubtedly boosted the economy. Allowing expansion of trade, and decrease of trading and labor costs have made production invariably more profitable. Following the arguable success of the NAFTA the Clinton administration has continued an increase globalization of trade. Somewhat post facto adopting globalization as the chief tool for expanding Democratic ideals and American values worldwide, normalized trade relations have been sought throughout Asia and Africa as well.
China specifically has been a focus of the administrations efforts. Blatantly ignoring pernicious Chinese human rights abuses in both Tibet and at home, as well as legitimate threats to national security, when American companies were permitted to sell advanced missile and satellite technology to China, the last decade has grown to become expansion of trade with China at all costs. Yearly Congress debates offering China Most Favored Nation trading status. And yearly Congress, with the strong support from Clinton, has passed it. In very recent years, the Clinton administration has attempted to include China into the World Trade Organization.
The World Trade Organization is a recently created body, which serves as an economic parallel to NATO. It is the prime example of the multinational efforts to globalize trade by forming mutualistic alliances that make it easier for members to trade between themselves. The hope is, that eventually, all nations who meet minimum standards will be able to join the W.T.O., and at that time we truly will have a globalized economy. A recently passed bill also extended the global trading hand to Africa. We now allow African nations to trade with us without tariffs, in the hope that increased trade will boost Africa out of its desperate poverty.
Africa has long been the last frontier in the globalized trade quest. So to give Africa, a continent rife with war, famine, AIDs, corruption and poverty a door into the global economy was truly a milestone. Obviously, working standards and conditions in Africa cannot keep pace with more developed nations, however giving them the opportunity to compete in the same field as Western nations gives them the decided advantage that this continent so desperately needs. Of course globalization has had its detractors. Chief of which concern human & labor rights and environmental abuses in the countries in which America has expanded its trade.
Many complain that giving access to products made by abused workers or by companies that pollute the environment only propagate these terrible international problems. For instance NAFTA specifically stated that expanding free trade throughout North America was only applicable to companies that met acceptable working standards. However, defining “acceptable” is tougher job then just writing it in some legislation. Presently, one American employee for a steering-wheel plant makes approximately $10.46 per hour, compared to his Mexican counterpart, who makes about $0.75 per hour. Working conditions, health and safety standards are also drastically below American standards. And, as labor unions portended approximately 400,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the United States, and have been subsequently gained in Mexico.
So far, companies like Thompson Consumer Electronics, Jay Garment, Magne Tek, Uniroyal, Goodrich and Breed Technologies have moved at least 107 plants in Indiana alone to Mexican plants. So if we know that labor and environmental rights are being abused in Mexico, is it still in our best interest to expand trade to them? The questions surrounding MFN for China or inclusion into the W.T.O. are even more confusing. Because in Mexico, where the results are quite debatable, and while standards might be below our par, we may be able to admit the whole world does not need to operate on our par. However, in China, such questions do not exist.
China maliciously curbing religion and political freedom, as seen by the violent suppression of the Falon Gong in the interior, and the massive abuse and systematic elimination of Tibetan Buddhists. China is the worlds largest polluter (although, to be fair, they are also the most populous nation), and have virtually no enforced environmental standards on the products they produce. Working conditions are known to be criminally unfair and unsafe for workers. Nevertheless, China is still our most sought after trading partner. Those with a stronger conscience find it hard giving China advantages in trading when its abuses are so rampant and obvious. When one notices that the United States has full-fledged embargoes in place on Cuba and North Korea, two other communist countries, for lesser human rights violations, the hypocrisy becomes rather evident.
When Bill Clinton took office he too said that expanding trade would be conditional. That our trading hand would only be extended to those that met certain minimal expectations. However, he quickly abandoned those pledges upon taking office, in favor of the philosophy that increased trading with lesser-standard nations can only serve to increase standard of living ratings in those countries. It is a trickle-down notion and something somewhat hard to swallow from a Democratic president. In the end it is a balance of power between the concerns of the masses and might of the roaring economy that will hopefully win out.
However, avariciousness is an all too common human failing, and we as a species will be hard-pressed to take both what is good and what is right into consideration when trekking into the future.