Bus to the GM Plant in Saltillo INTERVIEW Mexico Buys Free Trade BY DON HAZEN THE EMERGENCE OF international trade policy as a key political issue in the United States has been one of the most surprising turns of 1993. In the past, trade issues were far removed from the political process. Decisions were made behind closed doors by obscure officials and multinational corporations, while the public remained uninformed and supposedly unconcerned. But not so anymore. Growing numbers of citizens now understand that trade agreements have a direct impact on their lives. Indeed the public has become so concerned with trade decisions that the North American Free Trade considered inevitable now faces serious political trouble. Meanwhile, the overarching General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade rent seven-year Uruguayan Round, or at the very least retreat from its earlier ambitious goals. These developments represent a new era in trade politics. What is going on? According to Lori Wallach, a primary strategist for the grassroots Citizen’s Trade Campaign, the answer is simple: “People now know what these agreements are about. Will we be dining with DDT in our food? Will wages continue to go down, will workers be threatened at the bargaining table, or worse will their jobs go to Mexico where workers are often paid considerably less than $1 per hour? These things are being discussed at Sierra Club meetings and in union halls across the country.” Free trade cheerleaders have argued that the passage of NAFTA will bring hundreds of thousands of new jobs, lower consumer prices, allow for more exports to Mexico and ensure the defense against Japan. But many Americans aren’t listening. Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that job losses not gains will be the end result of the agreement in the United States. Opponents to the agreement have further argued that in Mexico with its high unemployment level and government-imposed lowwage structure increased buying power is unlikely, now or in the near future. The Don Hazen is the director of the Institute for Alternative Journalism. experience of Canada, where as many as 450,000 jobs were lost as a result of free trade with the United States, has also cast a dark shadow over NAFTA. And the well-publicized Mexican-initiated GATT decision challenging the U.S. Marine Mammal Act U.S. legislation that protected dolphins from being killed in tuna nets has enraged the environmental movement and many U.S. citizens, who resent the imposition of international tribunals over environmental responsibilities and local conservation efforts. Together, these concerns suggest one thing for certain: Trade debate will never be the same. The closed-door decision process has been irreversibly yanked open, and Congress, particularly members of the House, are feeling the heat. Food contamination, environmental protection and workplace safety are concerns on the minds of many citizens as are high unemployment and declining wages, and the possibility that economic globalization could make both permanent. NAFTA is expected to be introduced in Congress this summer after side agreements to the Bush-signed compact are negotiated. The agreement will be voted on this fall, and if passed will take effect on January 1, 1994. However, moving NAFTA through Congress will be a major obstacle for President Clinton, due in part to the surprisingly sophisticated and powerful citizens movement which has stepped up to do battle over NAHA. At the center of this movement is the Citizens Trade Campaign, a broad-based coalition of environmental, trade union, church, farm and citizen organizations headed by former Indiana Congressman Jim Jontz and spearheaded by Wallach, who has been described by The National Journal as the “Trade Debate’s Guerrilla Warrior.” Another important citizen network is the Alliance for together many of the same organizations and has helped coordinate sector-by-sector critiques of the proposed NAFTA agreement. Political trouble from the grassroots usually means heavy political firepower by the Washington establishment, and certainly that has been the case with NAFTA. According to John Cavanaugh of the Institute for Policy Studies, American corporations are currently 12 JUNE 18, 1993
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