13. Public Input and Congressional Oversight Locked
Out of NAFTA
Sources: THE PROGRESSIVE, Date: January 1993, Title: "Citizens
Shut Out," Author: Jeremy Weintraub; ROLLING STONE Date: 10/28/93,
Title: "Congress: Kill NAFTA-The free-trade agreement is a bad
deal," Author: William Grieder; THE TEXAS OBSERVER, Date: 6/18/93,
Title: "Mexico Buys Free Trade," Author: Don Hazen
SYNOPSIS: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with
Canada and Mexico, cited as perhaps one of the most important international
trade policies in history, was created in what one member of Congress
called "fifteen months of the most secretive trade negotiations
I've ever monitored."
Researcher and author Jeremy Weintraub reports, "From the beginning,
negotiations were conducted clandestinely, documents classified, and
statements veiled, all because, according to Administration officials,
NAFTA was far too complex, too dense for the average member of Congress."
Nonetheless, those same members of Congress were given ninety days
to make a decision on whether to support or reject the treaty. It makes
sense to ask, if NAFTA is as wide-ranging and complex as touted, how
can the "average member of Congress," let alone his or her
constituents, make a reasonable, let alone intelligent, decision on
Of course, most constituents won't have a chance to read the treaty,
Weintraub writes, "When NAFTA was completed ... the U.S. trade
representative's office began allowing interested citizens to view the
2,000-page document -- for one hour." And while public participation
was barred from the negotiation process, one industry expert after another
was called in to comment or participate.
Critics also suggest that NAFTA is beginning to look a lot like the
Reagan/Bush era's final coup de grace for the labor movement and manufacturing
in the U.S. and Canada. The flow of jobs to Mexico, already a major
concern, is expected to increase with NAFTA, creating a long-term downward
pressure on wages in the U.S. Meanwhile, labor in Mexico is also suffering.
In a well-documented Rolling Stone article, author William Greider describes
how American corporations already are trying to break the labor movement
Meanwhile, opponents charge that environmental oversight and standards
are expected to devolve to the lowest common denominator under NAFTA,
exacerbating the problems of toxic dumping and environmental abuse already
evident in the maquiladora zone along the border. While the Mexican
government has promised reforms, and has some highly paid public relations
firms working to sell the American people on those promises, it has
a long history of empty rhetoric.
In an interview published in The Texas Observer, Chuck Lewis, executive
director of the Center for Public Integrity and the "scourge of
the lobbying world," said, "Since 1989, the Mexican government
and the various Mexican corporate groups tied to the government such
as COESCE [the Mexican Chamber of Commerce] have spent from $25 to $30
million for trade lobbying." For perspective, that is more than
twice what Kuwait spent to persuade Congress to attack Iraq.
While NAFTA has received considerable media coverage and will no doubt
be one of the top 10 news stories on the Associated Press list for 1993,
this nomination deals with the lack of information regarding the secretive
trade negotiations that went into the development of the treaty and
the lack of public input and congressional oversight.
SSU Censored Researcher: Paul Chambers
COMMENTS: Given the lack of public input and congressional oversight,
it was not surprising when NAFTA passed both houses with ease and turned
North America into one of the world's largest free trade zones. The
highly touted Al Gore/Ross Perot "debate" didn't hurt either.
Jeremy Weintraub, an author and researcher for the Global Economy Project
at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, provides an interesting
insight into the media's machinations behind the NAFTA vote.
"To most Americans," Weintraub wrote, "NAFTA coverage
in the mainstream media was probably excessive; yet NAFTA suffered an
alarming degree of censorship, albeit unconventional. Rather than question
the administration's assumptions concerning the global economy, reporters
seemed to accept tacitly the idea that public debate is an anathema
to a healthy NAFTA; as a result, NAFTA coverage was largely obfuscating
or, at best, superfluous.
"NAFTA hibernated long in the business pages of dailies, safe
from public scrutiny -- until the House vote neared. Suddenly, NAFTA
was headline news and mass media outlets gave business executives and
pro-NAFTA government officials limitless room to explain its significance.
In contrast, the environmental, labor, and consumer groups who campaigned
tirelessly to highlight NAFTA's shortcomings couldn't get a word in
edgewise. Television coverage of NAFTA lacked analysis but provided
one of the most entertaining debates in recent history: Ross Perot versus
Vice President Al Gore. The two combatants fired from their machine-gun-mouths
invectives and accusations; and, while little of substance was said,
Gore came across better, and the polls reflected an increase in NAFTA
"If mainstream coverage had extended beyond the jobs-environment
debate and included reports on the lack of citizen input and oversight
in creating NAFTA, the public would likely have rejected NAFTA early
on as an affront to democracy. With the end of the Cold War, there is
now even less justification for closed-door deals.
"Through its irresponsible coverage of one issue -- NAFTA -- the
mass media abetted or supported: (a) The conviction, held by reactionary
government officials, that government knows best what the public needs-thereby
entrenching an outmoded, unacceptable relationship between the federal
government and its citizens. Ironically, the U.S. press repeatedly highlighted
the lack of democratic participation in ratifying NAFTA in Mexico, while
somehow alluding to a contrast in America. (b) Profit-minded business
executives who admitted freely to the Wall Street Journal their plans
to move operations to Mexico. These same executives run corporations
like DuPont, ranked toxic offender number one by the EPA; and General
Electric, a notorious violator of worker rights in Mexico; and they
crafted NAFTA with a single goal: global market domination, with no
regard for communities, jobs, the environment, or democracy. As a result
NAFTA contains many provisions for investment rights but few rights
for citizens affected by the "fruits' of free-trade.
"Many examples illustrate the dour effects of mainstream media's
unprovocative, tired reporting. The most striking indictment is that
NAFTA remains obscure in the public's mind: few know what N-A-F-T-A
stands for, let alone what it stands to do.... Reactions to NAFTA's
passage ranged from "I've seen it on TV and listened to them talk
about it. But I'm not really aware of what it's about,' to 'Does it
have something to do with Africa,' to 'I don't know anything about it
and I've never heard of it,' the last being a candid admission by a
"Moreover, Congressional integrity was compromised by the Administration's
pro-NAFTA strong-arm tactics. The Wall Street journal reported strategic
meetings between the White House and pro-NAFTA corporations in the weeks
preceding the House vote; these corporations were told to pressure,
with the threat of withholding campaign contributions, undecided lawmakers
into voting for NAFTA. Similarly, the Administration cut various deals
to assure passage of NAFTA....
"In all cases, if the mass media had reported NAFTA's secrecy
and resultant narrow agenda, thoughtful members of Congress would not
have felt pressured to sign into law an agreement they know to be undemocratic;
and their constituents would have balked."
Investigative author Don Hazen interviewed Chuck Lewis, executive director
of the Center for Public Integrity, just prior to the release of the
Center's study, "The Trading Game: Inside Lobbying for the North
American Free Trade Agreement." The study was presented at a news
conference in Washington, DC, on May 27, 1993.
While the study received limited print media coverage and some coverage
on NPR and cable television (CNN, C-Span, and CNBC), Hazen speculated
as to why it received no network television coverage.
ABC, NBC and CBS all brought their cameras to the news conference but
never aired anything. Apparently, the chief attorney for Mexico sent
a letter raising questions about the Center's forthcoming study to ABC
executives prior to May 27th, the date of the press conference.
"The networks snub of this extremely important and comprehensive
study generated considerable speculation about what really happened.
At this point, no one has the answers, but some possible related issues
1. In April, Capital Cities/ABC made an offer to buy a recently-privatized
television network in Mexico, which would presumably require some
sort of Mexican government approval.
2. CBS, through Chairman Lawrence Tisch's Loew's company, has financial
ties to Mexico.
3. General Electric, which owns NBC and also has holding in Mexico,
was one of the most aggressive pro-NAFTA companies.
"In a related event, Fox Television retained the Center as a paid
consultant for a 'Front Page' segment on NAFTA lobbying, but after taped
interviews were done in several cities, and the piece was produced,
it never aired and no reason was given. Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox,
signed newspaper advertisements pushing for NAFTA in the days prior
to the vote."
Finally, now that the dust has settled on NAFTA, the push is on for
GATT. And, once again, as was the case with NAFTA, few in the public
know what G-A-T-T stands for, let alone what it stands to do.