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The reigning model for global economic integration follows the principle of “free trade,” which places its faith in the effectiveness of the market. The view has been that unfettered market economics would, without government intervention, do the work of bringing prosperity to all corners of the world. This theory was epitomized in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of the mid-1990s.


Current economic and market failures have demonstrated, however, that free markets won’t necessarily be fair markets. Since NAFTA’s passage, Mexico has seen slow economic growth, continued low wages, persistent poverty and inequality, and increased macroeconomic vulnerability. (Read more on NAFTA’s effects here.) It is past time to abandon the “free trade” myth and shape a new vision for trade.


NETWORK is especially concerned that trade agreements permit developing countries the flexibility to establish policies that will help, rather than hinder the alleviation of poverty. Some examples of such flexibility include:


  • Trade agreements should not require countries to eliminate import tariffs on staple agricultural commodities.
  • Trade agreements should not give multinational corporations greater rights than domestic investors and producers.
  • Trade agreements should not reduce access to essential medicines in impoverished countries.

NETWORK’s recent work on trade policy has focused on two areas: