Nafta NAFTA North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA’s proponents promised benefits for the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Benefits such as new U.S. jobs, higher wages in Mexico, a growing U.S. trade surplus with Mexico, environmental clean-up and improved health along the borderall have failed to take form. It is commonly believed that free trade between nations is a mutually beneficial arrangement for all parties involved; indeed, this is held to be an absolute truth.
Though free trade is undoubtedly the most effective form of commerce between countries from a purely economic standpoint, increasingly we find that our so-called free trade agreements are horribly unbalanced. Indicative of these fiascoes is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA is a lopsided and detrimental deal, hastily hammered out by an inexperienced group of American negotiators under constant pressure from the Bush Administration. I will outline several primary concerns about NAFTA, looking at the effects and circumstances surrounding the development of this deal. In June 1990, president Salinas of Mexico met with president George Bush to discuss a proposal to expand Mexico’s maquiladoras program (named for the Maquiladoras Act of 1972: a law designed to exempt international companies from certain environmental and labor laws) by establishing a free trade agreement between Mexico and America, and possibly Canada; anxious to find something to make him look favorable in the upcoming election, Bush jumped at the idea, and immediately began lobbying Congress for fast-track authority to bypass Congressional involvement in the subsequent trade negotiations.
That hurdle overcome, President Bush hastily assembled a group of ad-hoc trade negotiators and threw them pell-mell at the professional Canadian negotiators and the high-priced Washington insiders and ex-government employees that had been hired by Mexico. On August 12, 1992, President Bush announced completion of the treaty and hailed it a major U.S. victory; by November, it had been signed into law. What emerged from these back-room dealings was a monumentally flawed agreement. On the issue of job creation, the central focus of pro-NAFTA campaigning, it is fair to measure NAFTA’s real-life results against its supporters’ expansive promises of hundreds of thousands of new, high paying U.S.
jobs. However, even measured against more lenient do no harm standard, NAFTA has been a failure. Consider this recent opinion poll of Americans on NAFTA’s performance: 66% of Americans believe that free trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries cost the U.S. jobs. 66% of Americans believe that NAFTA has helped large corporations.
73% of Americans believe that NAFTA has not helped small business in the U.S. 58% of Americans agree that foreign trade has been bad for the U.S. economy because cheap imports have cost wages and jobs here. 81% of Americans say that Congress should not accept trade agreements that give other countries the power to overturn U.S. laws on consumer safety, labor or the environment.
Clearly NAFTA has led to widespread job loss, with more than 200,000 U.S. workers certified as NAFTA casualties under just one narrow government program. Since the 1970’s, there has been a steady trickle of manufacturing jobs heading south of the border; American companies found that moving their factories to Mexico, where the minimum wage is 58 per hour and environmental laws are rarely enforced, lowered their production costs even though the U.S. maintained tariffs on the import of those items. Mexico began to actively seek out U.S. manufacturers in 1972 after the passage of the Maquiladoras Act. Notwithstanding the fact that job growth totally unrelated to NAFTA has produced a net gain in the U.S. employment picture during this period, it in no way changes the reality that NAFTA has cost many individual workers their jobsmost of whom are now unemployed or working at jobs that pay less than the ones they lost. Economic surveys of dislocated workers show that the jobs lost to NAFTA, often high-paying manufacturing jobs, are, in the majority of cases, replaced by lower-paid employment. Consider these alarming facts: NAFTA has transformed the U.S.’s $1.7 billion trade surplus with Mexico in 1993 into a projected $14.7 billion deficit for 1998. According to the U.S.
Department of Labor, approximately 214,902 American workers have been certified under one narrow program as having been laid off due to NAFTA. U.S. counties on the U.S.-Mexico border have borne a disproportionate burden of NAFTA job losses. In El Paso, TX alone, more than 10,000 jobs have been lost due to NAFTA. Indeed, Texas counties have the highest poverty rates in the country, as well as the highest percentage of adults who have not received a high school diploma. The 10.4% unemployment rate in all U.S.
counties bordering Mexico in 1993 has grown to 13.5%. This joblessness may have a direct impact of the nation’s crime posture as well. Agriculture is another area of American life that is now in crisis. The free market-free trade farm policies of the 1990’s have eviscerated U.S. wheat, winter fruit and vegetable, and tomato producers. And they have tied the hands of policy makers, preventing them safeguarding U.S. farmers from the dumping that has resulted from recent shocks like the currency depreciation in Canada and the suppression of worldwide demand for commodities caused by the Asian financial crisis. In addition, because of NAFTA, U.S.
producers are now forced to compete with products from Mexico, where agribusinessthough not farm workers or consumersbenefit from lower wages and less rigorous standards on pesticide residues, bacterial contamination and other potential public health threats. In theory, tariff cuts and new competition under NAFTA are supposed to benefit consumers by reducing costs. These savings are supposed to trickle down from producers to packing plants to retailers and ultimately to consumers. In several prominent instances under NAFTA, consumer prices have actually risen. The 62% decline in hot dog prices in the U.S. has failed to reach the nation’s consumers, who pay more for a pound of pork now than they did five years ago, even after adjusting for inflation.
The price of tomatoes have risen 16% in real terms since NAFTA went into effect in 1993. In Canada, producers receive $60 per pig. It costs $3,200 for that same pig in the supermarket. Before the 1998 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA, Canadian wheat imports to the U.S.-a major wheat producer and exporter-were virtually zero.
Five years after NAFTA, the U.S. is Canada’s number two export market for wheat. U.S. imports of Canadian spring wheat increased 2,000% to 1.45 million tons, from 1990 to 1997. The Canadian wheat flood has taken its toll on U.S.
wheat farmers, who are prevented by NAFTA from imposing new quotas, imposed on Canadian wheat in 1994, have been lifted. The environment too continues to suffer through increased industrialized activity. NAFTA has exacerbated preexisting environmental and public health problems caused by a high concentration of export manufacturing plants in the free trade zone along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Clinton Administration echoed these sentiments, and went so far as to claim without NAFTA, the growth of the maquiladora sector would cause an environmentally devastating spiral of industrial and population growth and resulting air and water pollution. Yet rather than reversing, this trend has accelerated. During NAFTA’s first five years the maquiladora zone along the U.S.-Mexico border has undergone explosive growth, compounding preexisting environmental and health problems; the promised clean-up and new environmental infrastructure never materialized. In three cases, U.S.-based companies are suing Mexico for the right to open hazardous waste disposal facilities.
Hazardous waste imports into the United States in 1997 (the last year for which data is available) are higher than in 1993 – or than in any time in the 1990’s – and have increased 50% since 1996 alone. This increase heightens the risk of contamination due to spills during transport. Indeed, Mexican trucks are almost twice as likely as U.S. trucks to be forced out of service for failing inspections. Beginning in early 1999, each day twenty-five million gallons of treated, but still toxic Mexican sewage was scheduled to be discharged off Imperial Beach, California.
With treated sewage dumped into 100′ deep water only a few miles from the shore, testing conducted by the U.S. EPA has determined that it will fail to meet acute toxicity limits of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Besides clean water, clean air continues to pose serious problems. The U.S.-Mexico border is clogged with record levels of truck traffic as imports surge into the U.S. from Mexico.
Traffic through Texas has increased 19% since 1994, to a level of 17,582 trucks per day. Since NAFTA was enacted, the number of trucks crossing California’s San Diego Otay Mesa border has more than doubled, from 450,000 to 1,000,000. The EPA has suggested that border-area residents are exposed to health-threatening levels of air pollutants, including carbon monoxide [particulate], and now the following border areas exceed ambient air quality standards: El Paso, TX; Dona Ana County, NM; Imperial County, CA; San Diego, CA; Douglas, AZ; and Yuma, AZ. These health concerns and new issues related to food safety raised during the 1993 NAFTA debate were dismissed with promises of improved practices in Mexico and better border inspection. Yet NAFTA and its implementing bill weakened existing food safety standards, for instance allowing meat and poultry imports that did not meet U.S. safety standards, and specifically limited border inspection.
Under NAFTA, the U.S. has experienced a major upswing in produce imports from Mexico. At the same time, the USFDA now inspects far less imported food than it did before NAFTA. The results with volume up and inspections down: Americans in every state now face a substantially greater risk of exposure to unsafe food as a direct result of NAFTA. Moreover, serious public health problems in border communities linked to high levels of environmental contamination generated by maquiladora production have worsened under NAFTA.
In particular, certain types of fatal birth defects and sanitation-related diseases are on the rise. Consider these issues related to food safety and environmentally-linked health threats: Food Safety Since 1993, FDA inspections of imported food declined from 8% of total imports to less than 2%. NAFTA does not require member countries to maintain a minimum level of food safety standards. The flood of fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico coincides with severe cuts to Mexico’s domestic food inspection budget. In 1992, Mexico’s spending on food safety was $25 million (U.S.), but by 1995 had been slashed to $5 million (U.S.). In 1993, imported strawberries from Mexico were found to have an 18.4% violation rate for illegal levels of pesticides. Five years later, Mexican strawberry imports into the U.S. have increased 31% under NAFTA, and comprise 96% of total U.S. strawberry imports. Environmentally Linked Health Threats Contamination of the Rio Grande River during NAFTA has been well documented.
Extensive testing has reveled that extreme fecal contamination leaves border residents at risk for Hepatitis A. According to the Texas Department of Health, since NAFTA went into effect the Hepatitis A rate for Cameron County rose form 17.8/100,000 residents to 87.4/100,000 residents, an increase of almost 400%. The Hepatitis A rate for Maverick County increased by 122% since 1993, from 82.5/100,000 to 183/100,000. And in Webb County the increase was 78% from 59.6/100,000 in 1993 to 105.9/100,000 in 1997. By 1998, the neural tube defect rat …