In the latter half of the 20th century, governments actively sought to ease impediments to the sale of goods over international boundaries. To facilitate trade and maximize corporate profits, a series of international agreements of broad scope were entered into, from the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to the establishment of the behemoth World Trade Organization established in 1995, as well as smaller but still very consequential bi- and trilateral pacts such as the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
These trade agreements and the institutions they established also pass judgment on environmental protection policies that effect trade. Instead of raising the bar, however, and requiring countries with poor standards to improve, the agreements most often force countries to weaken their environmental standards so as to open up trade and conform to global rules to which everyone can adhere with little effort.
Animals across the globe suffer as a result of this “race to the bottom” in environmental and animal welfare standards. When their homes are eliminated and polluted, animals die. As corporate profits skyrocket, workers and people who used to sustain themselves from the plundered local resources become increasingly impoverished, leading to a class of poor and frustrated people who are forced to catch, consume and sell animals as fast as they can in order to survive. Truly “free” trade would be fair trade—fair for the less affluent global citizens and fair for the animals of the world, too.