NAFTA

There probably isn’t very much that Dit Williams, owner of the World of Clothing, and I agree on. He comes from the right political universe and I come from the left, sorta. But in any universe, things sometimes collide and our political planets have definitely crossed on one subject—NAFTA. Years ago, when NAFTA was given the breath of life by President George Bush, Sr. and a stroll around the block by President Clinton, I had serious misgivings about the end result of opening an unregulated trade door to a corporate system whose only moral compass was profit. The promises in this massive document were many including creating hundreds of thousands of high paying U.S. jobs and raising the living standards for all three countries involved thereby creating new booming markets for U.S. goods. Amidst all the shiny penny promises, though, I couldn’t shake a nagging doubt—If they make it cheaper over there, who will pay us to make it over here? If nobody pays us to make it over here, how will we buy what they are making over there? As I remember, Ross Perot had similar misgivings.

This past January marked the tenth anniversary of the NAFTA agreement. To celebrate the event, Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney along with former Presidents George Bush and Carlos Salinas joined current President George W. Bush at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington D.C.

According to Scott Miller, staff writer for the Washington File (U.S. State Department), “Bush said he regarded the signing of NAFTA as one of the proudest moments of his presidency. Rather than precipitating “a giant sucking sound” of lost U.S. jobs, as some critics predicted, the agreement was a ‘palpable step forward to greater prosperity and stability across the region…’” Perhaps the former president doesn’t get out of Kennebunkport, Maine very often these days.

Since it would take an entire issue of Prime Times to list all the plant closings in North Carolina that have contributed to the “greater prosperity” of our state since NAFTA, let’s compare the promises to the reality. The following information was taken from an excellently resourced article by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. (www.tradewatch.org) First, a little background.

NAFTA is a lot more than a trade treaty . It is a 900 page agreement that requires conformity to a single set of domestic laws--whether or not the voters in those countries approved them or not. NAFTA requires “limits on the safety and inspection of meat sold in grocery stores, new patent rules that raised medicine prices, constraints on local government’s ability to zone against sprawl or toxic industries and elimination of preferences for spending your tax dollars on U.S. made products or locally grown food.” NAFTA’s “core provisions grant foreign investors a remarkable set of new rights and privileges that promote relocation abroad of factories and jobs and the privatization and deregulation of essential services, such as water, energy and health care.” It also made a lot of promises.

Promise: NAFTA will result in a U.S. trade surplus with Mexico.
Reality: Our modest trade surplus with Mexico is now a huge deficit and our deficit with Canada is five-fold. In 2002, the total U.S. trade deficit was a staggering $436 billion with 20% of this total due to deficits with Canada and Mexico.

Promise: The trade surplus from NAFTA will create 170,000 jobs every year.
Reality: The 170,000 jobs projection was based on the assumption there would be trade surpluses. There has been none. In 2000 The Economic Policy Institute concluded that NAFTA had already cost the United States 766,000 jobs and job opportunities.

Promise: The new jobs created by NAFTA will be higher paying jobs.
Reality: Workers who lost high-wage, benefits-paying jobs have only found new work in service sector positions that pay 23-77 percent less than previous positions. Interestingly, even though we haven’t returned to the peak hourly wage of $13.36 in 1973, U.S. Corporate profits rose by 88% in the 1990’s alone and CEO pay rose by 463 percent.

Promise: The U.S. will become a nation of high tech, highly paid professionals.
Reality: Three million high tech and professional jobs are forecast to be “outsourced” to cheaper labor overseas in the next ten years.

Promise: The U.S. will shed its inefficient industries in favor of streamlined efficient ones.
Reality: The nation’s largest employer is now Walmart and pays an average wage of $7.50/hour. The “inefficient” industries were the manufacturing jobs that paid a living wage.

“NAFTA’s record speaks for itself,” Bush [Sr] declared. The Washington File report continues, “Mulroney concurred with Bush on the benefits of NAFTA, and supported his view that many critics of the agreement were misguided, ‘The fear-mongering of those who predicted massive losses of jobs the curtailing of sovereignty, and a race to the bottom in environmental and social policy have all proved hollow. Our countries are stronger, our economies more robust, our peoples more prosperous, our social structures more resilient, our capital markets more stable, our roles in the world more vigorous as a result of NAFTA…it is now our responsibility to share that success.’” (12-09-03)

President George W. Bush and others are leading the initiative to spread this “prosperity” to others. They hope to expand it to 31 more countries in Latin America and the Caribbean through the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and five Central American countries through a Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Just this week, even though the economy has lost 2.8 million manufacturing jobs since President Bush took office, the White House released a report praising ‘outsourcing’ jobs. The report said, “When a good or service is produced more cheaply abroad, it makes more sense to import it than make or provide it domestically.” (2-10-04)

Is there a solution for the rest of us who see NAFTA for what it really is, The Big Con? Last week, on my travels down I-85, just past the peachoid in Gaffney, I was pleasantly startled to see a huge billboard with the following bold message:

Lost your job to layoffs and outsourcing yet? Vote.



To my readers: If you ever wonder if I get comments on these columns, I do occasionally. What are your thoughts on the matter?
Email Eva



*The opinions stated in this page are those of Ms. Eva Ritchey and do not necessarily represent the views of CyTech Computers & Internet Solutions, Inc..
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