Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

Last Sunday, President Trump announced the creation of the new trade deal, United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), after a year of debate between these three countries. This new agreement will include sweeping reforms regarding labor rights, technology and dairy markets. Students at Columbia and Barnard should find it in their best interests to be informed of the implications of USMCA and foreign trade as it may affect our lives daily—impacting families, local businesses and the environment.

USMCA replaced what Trump has referred to as the “worst trade deal… maybe ever,” officially known as NAFTA: the North American Free Trade Agreement. Signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994, NAFTA liberalized trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, eliminating almost all tariffs and restrictions on product exchange between these three countries. This agreement addressed international court disputes, encouraged sanitary measures, protected foreign investment and enforced intellectual property rights. Although NAFTA has been fundamental in strengthening all three countries’ economies and foreign relations, there have been clear “winners” and “losers” of this liberalized trade.

Last year, when President Trump announced the renegotiations of this 25-year-old agreement, he highlighted the concerns of the so-called “losers” of the trade agreement: factory workers, whose jobs became displaced by cheap foreign labor, a majority of who voted for Trump. After tense debates, the U.S. addressed these labor concerns by renegotiating that 45 percent of automobile parts must be made by workers earning at least $16/hour by 2023. These three countries also reached a consensus that Mexico must pass laws that protect migrant workers and allow them to unionize.

Columbia and Barnard students living in Manhattan, far from Mexico and rural factories, may feel detached from this issue, yet USMCA can still greatly influence our daily activities. Imagine one day you head to Ferris for breakfast and there is a shortage of dairy products and eggs. Just as you are walking back to your room eating a measly piece of toast, your parents call you about a sudden increase in your tuition due to rising dining costs. After thorough investigation about the disappearance of the beloved Ferris egg frittatas, you discover that the increased costs and food shortages are due to Trump refusing to pass USMCA. This story may be an exaggeration yet the policies are not; dairy and poultry products are under threat if the U.S. decides to reinstate the tariffs eliminated in USMCA, which would place higher costs on food imports. Buying fresh fruit in New York is expensive, but it may become more so; fruits such as strawberries and tomatoes are also vulnerable to excessive taxes without a trade agreement in place to protect agricultural markets.

Students’ family members may also be impacted by the enactment of USMCA. The Business Roundtable reports that trade agreements save nuclear American families about $10,000 per year; foreign products are often cheaper than domestic products, alleviating costs for the working class. While the opening of markets creates more jobs, conversely, factory production can become displaced when trade agreements encourage the investment of foreign labor. Based on their nationality, and socioeconomic and regional identities, students and their family members may either see great benefits or detriments to their hometown community.

Advocacy groups on campus for fair labor standards or environmental justice should also take note of the precedent set by NAFTA and potential reforms created by USMCA. The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a court system that allows investors sue countries for discriminatory trade practices, has come under fire for preventing the regulation of companies infringing on the rights of workers and destruction of the environment. USMCA has restricted some use of the ISDS, yet the extent to which this trade agreement will fully address the issues of investment arbitration is still in question. Students passionate about worker rights should closely follow the process of enacting USMCA due to the ISDS direct effect on workers in both Mexico and the U.S.

SEAS students, or anyone interested in technology, can also benefit from reading updates about USMCA. Foreign trade increases innovation of technological advancements, primarily mechanical components used for aerospace, cars, smartphones, computers, and health devices around the world. Yet despite this positive globalization, NAFTA struggled to enforce intellectual property rights, leaving the U.S. technology industries vulnerable to infringement of their products. USMCA ensures intellectual property rights as well as data protection for biological drugs. People interested in entering these industries may want to lobby for better protection of these rights in the new trade agreement.

If I have not yet convinced you to care about USMCA or foreign trade, consider this: you are a global citizen, meaning your country’s policies and your own consumption affect people around the world. The health, environmental, and labor standards set by the U.S. in this trade agreement will not only affect you and your family, but also millions of our neighbors in Mexico and Canada. As USMCA negotiations persist, most likely continuing into 2019, it is worth reading articles and sparking discussions with your peers about the effects of this deal. By taking it upon yourself to become informed about the global economy, you are contributing to the justice and modernization of the world. In short, let us protect the supply of Ferris frittatas!

Rachel Barkin

Columbia Barnard '22

Rachel is a coffee enthusiast living in New York City who loves to meet new people. She enjoys finding new music, hates small talk, and loves long car rides. She aspires one day to become a woman as great as Olivia Benson from Law and Order S.V.U.