10. The Broken Promises Of NAFTA
SOURCES: COVERT/ACTION QUARTERLY, Fall 1995, "NAFTA's Corporate
Con Artists"; Author: Sarah Anderson and Kristyne Peter; MOTHER
JONES, January/February 1995, "A Giant Spraying Sound"; Author:
SYNOPSIS: The promises of prosperity that the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would bring the USA and Mexico were most
loudly proclaimed by USA*NAFTA, a pro-NAFTA business coalition. The
USA*NAFTA coalition promised that the free trade pact would be all things
to all people. It would improve the environment, reduce illegal immigration
by raising Mexican wages, deter international drug trafficking, and
most importantly, create a net increase in high-paying U.S. jobs.
Now, some two years after the agreement became law, USA*NAFTA's own
members are blatantly breaking the coalition's grand promises. Many
of the firms -- that only a short time ago were extolling the benefits
of NAFTA for US workers and communities -- have cut jobs, moved plants
to Mexico, or continued to violate labor rights and environmental regulations
An analysis by the Institute for Policy Studies revealed how the original
promises are being broken in Mexico: while the standard of living may
be better for the wealthy, there's been a 30 percent increase in the
number of Mexicans emigrating to the US; the peso devaluation of December
1994 cut the value of their wages by as much as 40 percent (making them
far less able to buy US goods today than they were before NAFTA); interest
rates on credit cards climbed above 100%; retail sales in Mexico's three
largest cities have dropped by nearly 25%.
The continuing economic crisis in Mexico is expected to cause the loss
of two million jobs in 1995, and economic desperation is blamed for
the 30 percent increase in arrests by US border patrols between January
and May 1995.
NAFTA's promises to US workers also have been broken: the Department
of Labor's NAFTA Transitional Adjustment Assistance program reported
that 35,000 US workers qualified for retraining between January 1, 1994,
and July 10, 1995, because of jobs lost to NAFTA. A University of Maryland
study estimates that more than 150,000 US jobs were cut in 1994 as a
result of increased consumer imports from Mexico. And since the peso
devaluation in December 1994, the US trade surplus with Mexico has turned
into a deficit expanding from $885 million in May 1994 to $6.9 billion
a year later, wiping out any basis for claiming that NAFTA is a net
job creator for US workers.
And, finally, an investigative piece by Mother Jones revealed that
the environmental impact of NAFTA has been as severe as the economic
impact. While government officials promised that NAFTA would reduce
the level of pesticides coating Mexico's fields, this hasn't occurred.
The competition that NAFTA has set off between growers may actually
increase the amount of pesticides used on Mexican crops. In fact, since
NAFTA, Mexican growers are spraying more toxic pesticides on fruits,
vegetables, and workers. Responsibility for pesticide use lies not only
with Mexican growers but also with their US agribusiness partners. The
Mother Jones investigation also revealed that these companies, which
supply capital to more than 40 percent of large-scale agribusiness in
Mexico, distribute produce that has been sprayed with pesticides not
permitted for use in the United States.
COMMENTS: Sarah Anderson, coauthor of the CovertAction Quarterly
article with Kristyne Peter, notes the general theme of the article
is "the hypocrisy of pro-NAFTA US corporations which, less than
two years into the agreement, are already confirming the fears of NAFTA
critics. It looks at the broader range of NAFTA's impact, and attempts
to raise awareness of the links between workers and communities on both
sides of the border. The worse things get in Mexico, the worse things
will get in the United States, but the mainstream media seem to have
missed that point.
"The general public could benefit from an increased awareness
of how free trade leads to downward pressure on labor and environmental
conditions on both sides of the border. If US citizens begin to see
their fates as being linked to those of workers in Mexico and other
low-wage countries, they will begin to redirect their frustrations away
from Mexican workers and immigrants and toward the real culprits-the
corporations that are pitting workers and communities against each other
in a race to the bottom. I also hope that this article will help increase
the already growing concern about the excessive influence of corporations
over our political system. The vast majority of people who worked in
opposition to NAFTA came away from that battle convinced that the first
step towards achieving more socially responsible economic and trade
policies is to get money out of politics.
"Clearly, it is the corporate con artists who are benefiting from
the lack of media coverage of this issue. While the leaders of these
corporations were eager to appear in the media before the vote on NAFTA
to promote what they claimed would be its numerous benefits for the
US public, they are now noticeably absent from the limelight.
"Pat Buchanan, as the only presidential candidate talking about
free trade, has become the most prominent NAFTA critic. Unfortunately,
Buchanan's racist views leave the impression that anyone who is opposed
to the agreement is also a nationalist and a protectionist. The mainstream
media have reinforced the false impression that the debate on trade
has only two sides (free trade vs. protectionist). There are many who
believe that trade can be beneficial, but want to ensure that these
benefits are reaped by the greater public, not just the corporate CEOs.
Buchanan's virtual monopoly of the trade issue makes it imperative that
those who promote an internationalist approach to trade policy try even
harder to get this view into the mainstream media."
Esther Schrader, author of the Mother Jones article, said she was not
surprised the subject of her article-the investigation into Mexican
worker deaths associated with pesticides-was not undertaken by anyone
else. However, she was disturbed the subject did not surface in major
media during the NAFTA debate, where concern over pesticides was limited
to fears about their effect on U.S. consumers eating fruit and vegetables.
Never in the NAFTA debate did the frightening effect of pesticides on
Mexican workers in the field receive major media coverage.
Schrader notes, "In the most callous sense, US residents are not
at all affected by improving conditions for Mexican workers. But if
the tremendous harms suffered by Mexican workers in the fields every
day were taken up by the mass media, the US government might feel compelled
to exert pressure on its Mexican counterparts to enforce their own laws.
With the establishment last year of the NAFTA environmental commission,
Mexican officials can now be censured for their failure to adhere to
their own laws. All that is lacking is desire on the part of US officials.
"Of course Mexican agribusiness and the Mexican government, both
interested in increasing exports to the US, benefit from the limited
coverage given the abuse of pesticides on Mexican farms. But powerful
US agribusiness would also be harmed by closer attention to this subject,
since US growers are the powerful owners of many Mexican agribusiness
Schrader concludes, "It is a shame that the environmental commission
set up under NAFTA does not take up this issue and other similar abuses.
Until Americans are dying, I doubt they will."
The revelations concerning NAFTA's broken promises cited in the original
source articles by Covert/Action Quarterly and Mother Jones were confirmed
January 12, 1996, when the Washington Post reported that, "During
1995, the Mexican economy shrank by six percent and lost more than one
million jobs as it sank into its deepest recession in 60 years. The
value of the peso dropped nearly 60 percent, the annual inflation rate
exceeded 50 percent, tens of billions of dollars in capital fled the
country, and Mexicans complained of a rise in violent crime." Further,
the Post added, "As a result, illegal border crossings rose substantially
last year. Across the entire 2,2,000 mile border, apprehensions were
up 92 percent from a year earlier, INS officials said."