A GenXer’s Guide to the Rise and Imminent Fall of NAFTA

Let’s begin by saying that if you want to discuss the intricacies and fine inner workings of the history of NAFTA, I’m not your girl, as I’m not here to pick a fight with anyone.  I am however here to give you a brief historical outline and share some nuances about the NAFTA project and it’s players, as well as offer a mental picture that silhouettes the start-up and the inevitable decline or demise of this lofty 3 country joint effort.

If you’ve grown-up, come of age, and/or participated in life in the US, Canada or Mexico, (or even watched television or made purchases) during this NAFTA generation (Generation X), you may already have an idea about what NAFTA is.  You may have watched the initiative show up on nightly news broadcasts, in newspapers or referenced on voting ballots.  If not, here’s a layman’s description:

NAFTA stands for the North American Free Trade Agreement.  It is a comprehensive agreement that sets the rules for international trade and investment between the United States, Canada and Mexico.  It’s a very lengthy and complex document of over 2,000 pages, spanning multiple American presidential administrations.  Both Republican and Democratic presidents have weighed in on, interpreted and eventually approved NAFTA.  It has been a “thing” for the past 25 some-odd years.

There is much discussion as to whether or not this agreement was an initially good idea, if opening a three-way county trade has indeed been beneficial, or if putting this agreement into place was just decades of misguided investment and trade ideas, initially developed by a bipartisan think tank back in the late 1970’s.  I’m picturing some smart, groovy dudes stating, “Hey!  Let’s open the borders, we’ll make piles of money, it will be good for everyone!”

NAFTA was originally proposed by President Ronald Reagan, eventually signed by President George H.W. Bush, implemented by President Bill Clinton, defended by George W. Bush and for the most part, ignored by our 44th President, Barack Obama.  Considering the fact that we are talking about free trade, doing business between 3 countries in North America and keeping the lines of communication (and trade) open, and given our (the US) current choice of American President, it almost goes without saying that the agreement of free trade may be coming to a complete and screeching halt.  If you are a visual learner, let’s look at it this way:

Chances are, whatever work you do or have done, you have somehow participated in, been touched by, or purchased something that may not have been possible without NAFTA.  Maybe you’ve worked in the automotive industry and have seen jobs come and go, maybe your own.  Maybe you work in oil, or farming.  You may already have a good idea of how NAFTA has invisibly touched each one of us, in both tangible and in intangible ways.  It has strengthened our economy during the times when we have been open minded and willing to take a chance on growth.  On the law of reciprocity.

Here’s a personal example.   Here’s one my sweethearts:

As a female GenXer growing up and coming of age during the times of NAFTA, I developed a keen interest in the automotive industry.  Maybe it was my Midwestern roots, maybe it was being born into a family with a father as a mechanic, maybe it was just what I was exposed to.  Cars have been my thing.  About 10 years ago, automakers recognized there was a surge of consumers with quite a bit of expendable income created in a new-found (if not price paid) economy, and decided to resurrect the American made muscle car in the form of bringing back the original body styles.  Now, keep in mind, this could not be done without the help from our other North American friends, both Mexico and Canada to be specific.  Whenever I’m at a dealership, car show, or a place where other auto enthusiasts converge and are in the know, they will ask me, (sometimes mocking, sometimes not) “Mexico?” and I will respond with, “No, Canada!”  This means that my American made beauty actually possesses a Canadian birth certificate.  As mentioned in my opening line, things get complicated when we talk about intricacies and  where parts were made and products were assembled, and it’s all outlined in that 2,000 page document called The North American Free Trade Agreement.  If it weren’t for this agreement, you and I would have experienced a life much different than the one we’ve known over the past two, going on three decades.  And if you followed the six figure photo chart above, you may begin to realize that life as we now know it, is about to change drastically.  Whether it be good or bad, that’s left for the financial analysts to decided, our golden years to witness, and our children to reap the benefits or unravel the mess.

For your further reading pleasure: