NAFTA & North American Integration: Reasons & Effects

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  • 0:04 Definitions
  • 1:23 Provisions
  • 2:00 Controversy
  • 2:46 Rights & Immigration
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the North American integration that occurred through NAFTA. In doing this, it will define tariffs, while also discussing the arguments for and against this famous agreement.


Going to college in the '90s, most of my poli-sci professors were abuzz with NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. It was such a big deal, I think I had to write at least four papers on it. Since NAFTA was so controversial at the time, my professors expected me to not only give a factual rundown, but they also wanted my opinion. Although NAFTA is sort of old news these days, today's lesson will concentrate on it. When we're done, it'll be your job to decide whether it's a good or bad thing.

Since NAFTA is part of our past and our present, the wording of this lesson has the potential to get a bit tricky. For this reason, we'll stick to the present when we're defining terms, but we'll step back in time as we discuss the fears people had over its signing. The important thing for you to remember is that NAFTA is still alive and kicking. Keeping this in mind, let's get rolling.

NAFTA is an economic agreement that integrates the economies of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. This treaty calls for the reduction and even elimination of many tariffs between its members. A tariff is a tax on imports and exports. Spearheaded by President Bush, NAFTA did not officially go into play until 1994 during the presidency of Bill Clinton.


From cars to crops to computers, its goal is to make it easier for goods to pass between the borders of North America and Mexico. Interestingly, NAFTA also calls for the protection and respect of more intangible things like trademarks, copyrights, and patents. While not part of the first draw ups, NAFTA also contains sections on human rights.

Although NAFTA is a huge deal, it did have some limitations. Unlike many of its European counterparts, NAFTA decrees don't supersede each country's national laws. Also, it doesn't create any sort of joint currency system.


Now that we have this information down, let's take a look at why it was so controversial. For this one, we'll travel back in time. To start, most big corporations thought NAFTA was a good idea. After all, if you can reduce your taxes, you can increase your profits. However, not everyone shared this excitement. In fact, the labor unions of U.S. and Canada opposed NAFTA. Their fear was that it would make it easier for big businesses to move factories to Mexico where they could pay workers less.

On the Mexican side, many Mexican farmers were against NAFTA, their main complaint being that the lack of tariffs might make it possible for American crops to be sold at prices that would undercut theirs. So strong was this fear, that a group of Mexican revolutionaries known as Zapatistas declared war on the Mexican government after NAFTA was signed.

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