Kristina Kim

Former President of Mexico and current Yale professor Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81 on Monday night spoke during a Yale Political Union debate on whether NAFTA — a trade agreement signed by Canada, the United States and Mexico that eliminated most tariffs and duties on trade between the countries — should remain in place.

The debate, held in Sudler Hall, began with an opening statement by Zedillo, who argued in favor of keeping NAFTA, and continued with speeches by various members of the YPU, who presented various arguments supporting and opposing Zedillo’s position.

NAFTA, which went into effect in 1994, was designed to increase trade in North America. According to the International Monetary Fund, trade among the three countries nearly tripled between 1993 and 2007.

“Why am I in favor of this NAFTA?” Zedillo said at the debate. “I believe that the objectives of NAFTA have been accomplished. NAFTA was about trading goods and services among the three countries, worth $170 billion. Trade in goods and services has increased.”

Zedillo emphasized that NAFTA has stimulated the economies of the three countries, citing in particular the impact of the free trade agreement on job growth in Mexico.

While some YPU members expressed support for Zedillo’s arguments, others were less convinced. In her speech, Caroline Kuritzkes ’18, a member of the Party of the Left, argued that local workers and farmers have suffered as a result of NAFTA, with many losing jobs.

“If you have a set objective to, let’s say, address the idea of poverty, you should decide specifically a mechanism that you use to answer the question of poverty,” Zedillo said in response to the concerns raised about the impact of NAFTA on local workers. “How do you provide a social safety net so that the person is not left behind and how you empower that person is important.”

Throughout the debate, Zedillo remained firm in his support for multilateral free-trade agreements, reiterating that countries across the globe should be open to adopting such agreements.

Christian Wolpert Gaztambide ’20, a member of the Party of the Right, and Niam Shah ’21, an attendee at the event, agreed with Zedillo. Both said they appreciated his commitment to NAFTA during his presidency.

“I agree with the president on the first part of his speech where he talks about reforming NAFTA and its need to keep up with the times to be updated for 2018.” said Krish Desai ’21, a member of the Independent Party. “But I think that he did not go into the detail beyond the financial aspects of the agreement and into the suppression of culture that NAFTA creates.”

The debate concluded with a vote in favor of keeping NAFTA.

Isha Dalal | isha.dalal@yale.edu