NAFTA and Drug Trafficking: Perpetuating Violence and the Illicit Supply Chain

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been critiqued as merely serving U.S. and Canadian interests, while making the rich richer and only providing marginal, geographically isolated benefits to the poor in Mexico. Although NAFTA promised to decrease migration to the north, increase foreign direct investment, and provoke universal economic prosperity in Mexico, such outcomes have not materialized. The agreement, however, has undoubtedly facilitated U.S.-Mexican trade. As former Mexican Foreign Minister (2000-2003) Jorge G. Castañeda argues, “NAFTA brought neither the huge gains its proponents promised nor the dramatic losses its adversaries warned of.” Still, NAFTA has contributed significantly to one market in particular: the illicit drug trade.

While NAFTA can by no means be identified as the principle cause of the drug violence in Mexico, it has certainly attributed to increasing drug traffic over the border through its implementation of free-market reforms. However, this did not come as a surprise. In his book, Border Games, Peter Andreas reveals that “pushing NAFTA through Congress … required deflecting concerns that opening the border to legal trade might unintentionally open it to illegal drugs.” He expands upon this by noting that law enforcement officials who initially made this argument were silenced.

As a pressing security concern in the United States, illegal drug trafficking and the resulting violence has become one of the most popular and contentious research topics in academia. This analysis will, first, examine how drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are able to obtain and maintain power within the state system. Second, the study will scrutinize NAFTA’s affects on the drug trade. Finally, policy implications will be offered that could increase cooperation in pursuit of a North American solution to the security threats arising from drug trafficking.

– Read the entire article at Council on Hemispheric Affairs.