Has “Free Trade” really helped us?

In my humble opinion NO.

Here is what I used to base my answer on. When we lowered tariffs in North America it was meant to encourage a freer flow of goods between nations. Economists tell us that increasing trade creates wealth and was essential to grow economies on both sides of the border or for that sake internationally (TPP, CETA). Free or tariff reduced trade is only a recent trend so we must look at why we had tariffs in the first place.

Tariffs or “taxes” were meant to protect our local and mature markets that were the envy of the world. Our Markets (Canada/US) harbored a healthy working population with disposable income and a robust manufacturing sector. Unlike other parts of the world North America (Canada/US) had made investments for the betterment of it’s population that included:

  • Health and Safety
  • Organized Labor
  • Minimum wage
  • Social Security/Government pensions
  • Workplace or Self-Directed retirement plans
  • Workers Compensation
  • Employment standards Legislation
  • Environmental Protection

Anyway you cut it, these programs increased our cost of production, albeit while producing a higher standard of living. The Tariffs made cheaper goods that were made in countries or states that did not have any of these obligations competitive by increasing their landed cost. In most cases local was cheaper when you factored in tariffs. This drove investment in both countries by companies who wanted to serve these rich markets by making it cost effective to produce locally.

We were told that lowering tariffs would drive competition and innovation because we would be allowed access to their markets on an equal footing in exchange for access into our markets. That did not happen. Restricted or limited access is what we got.

Too often national or state interests fell outside of NAFTA like Health and Safety, minimum wage, and environmental standards. So what in essence happened is that for companies to survive the onslaught of cheaper goods they too had to go offshore to remain competitive. In fact the standard of living has not increased in Mexico, the U.S and Canada. All the wealth that has been created did not raise the standard of living in any developed country, instead it only boosted the multi-national corporations bottom lines. This came at the expense of blue-collar and lower level white collar workers.

I am a strong proponent of responsible capitalism and competition. It’s the best system period and one that drives growth and innovation. When Free Trade was introduced and as other European and Pacific agreements pop up we must ask ourselves one fundamental question:

Is the playing field really level on  both sides?

Rick Barbosa

Albert

 

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rickbarbosa

Our Senior Partner Rick Barbosa is a Professional Accountant and Personal Financial Advisor with over 20 years experience dealing with Large Fortune 500 Organizations and Small to Medium sized Family owned Businesses. If you're looking for help with your finances, taxes, investing or starting and managing a business you've come to the right person.

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