El Gordo: How NAFTA Made Mexico Ameri-Fat

The Trumpian Buddha-esque physique is now achievable in Mexico thanks to NAFTA.

While Donald Trump likes to recycle easily refutable arguments about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) being “the worst trade deal ever,” he doesn’t seem to mention one that should be of concern to his Mexican counterparts. While such self-interested reasoning is what you’d expect from an “America First”-championing US president, a woe that the Mexicans are now suffering from is actually one Americans are profiting from:

Mexico began lifting tariffs and allowing more foreign investment in the 1980s, a transition to free trade given an exclamation point in 1994, when Mexico, the United States and Canada enacted the North American Free Trade Agreement. Opponents in Mexico warned that the country would lose its cultural and economic independence.

But few critics predicted it would transform the Mexican diet and food ecosystem to increasingly mirror those of the United States. In 1980, 7 percent of Mexicans were obese, a figure that tripled to 20.3 percent by 2016, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Diabetes is now Mexico’s top killer, claiming 80,000 lives a year, the World Health Organization has reported.
For many Mexicans, Nafta promised to make real “the fever dreams of joining the modern economy,” said Timothy A. Wise, a trade expert at the Small Planet Institute and Tufts University. “All former rural workers would be in new jobs in the burgeoning manufacturing industries of the post-Nafta world. That just hasn’t happened.”
“The only way that Mexico became a ‘first world’ country was in terms of diet.”
And that’s the real story here. While American agricultural and food production interests have succeeded in making Americans the fattest among developed nations, Mexico now trails by a minuscule margin among OECD nations as they’ve consolidated markets south of the border post-NAFTA. So, if Mexicaons haven’t exactly achieved an American standard of living, they’ve at least achieved American super-sized waistlines:
Among its chief champions are American farm and food-retailing interests whose fortunes have benefited tremendously from the open market. Mexican exports to the United States have surged, and a more stable economic structure has evolved in Mexico. The country’s unemployment rate has stayed mostly constant, but average wages have fallen to $ 15,311 in 2016 from $ 16,008 in 1994, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Critics of Nafta acknowledge the complex causes of obesity, but argue free trade intensified the problem by opening Mexico’s largely isolated economy. In addition to dramatically lowering cross-border tariffs, Nafta let billions of dollars in direct foreign investment into Mexico, fueled the growth of American fast food restaurants and convenience stores, and opened the floodgates to cheap corn, meat, high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods.

You take the good with the bad, I guess.
International Political Economy Zone

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