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Brown Reverses NAFTA Stance, Now Opposes It : Politics: In a letter to President Clinton, state treasurer and probable gubernatorial candidate says treaty does not protect against the loss of jobs. Other major state Democrats have also criticized the free trade agreement.

September 06, 1993|BILL STALL | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

State Treasurer Kathleen Brown disclosed Sunday that she has decided to oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement because it does not adequately protect California against the loss of jobs to Mexico.

In reversing her position, Brown, a probable candidate for California governor next year, now has concluded that the treaty "sells California, our workers and our country short," she wrote in a letter to President Clinton dated Labor Day.

Brown told The Times that she changed her position after studying the recently negotiated NAFTA side agreements on labor and the environment, and concluded they did not contain the protections that California should have.

She also said the NAFTA package fails to guarantee that California will be compensated by the federal government for anticipated costs associated with treaty implementation.

In her letter to Clinton, Brown wrote: "We are straining under the costs of Washington's decisions on immigration, base closure and defense conversion, but we are still waiting for the aid that was supposed to help us deal with those decisions.

"We cannot afford to be left holding the bag one more time."

Brown, a Democrat, had supported the treaty up to now, as has Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

But other major state Democrats have already declared their opposition. They include state Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, a probable candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in the June, 1994, primary.

Both Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) have expressed opposition to the treaty.

Brown planned to discuss her position on the treaty in speeches to Labor Day rallies in San Diego, San Bernardino and Petaluma today. She said she has expressed her concerns to the Administration.

Winning treaty ratification from Congress is one of Clinton's major goals this fall. Republicans generally support it and Democrats are sharply divided. Whether Brown's change of position will have any impact on NAFTA's chances in Congress was difficult to assess immediately.

But Clinton needs all the political support he can get to rally Democratic support in Congress. Although the state treasurer of California is not usually a position of great influence in such matters, Brown is a Democrat of high national visibility because of the support she has attracted in her unofficial campaign for governor.

In her letter to Clinton, Brown said she has always used one fundamental standard for judging NAFTA: "Will it create new jobs with decent wages and benefits for American workers? If it does, we should support it. If it does not, we should reject it."

"After a great deal of thought and study, I have concluded that this NAFTA and the accompanying supplemental agreements do not adequately protect our workers and our environment," she added. "I therefore oppose the NAFTA agreement in its current form."

Brown told the President that the side agreement on labor will not prevent "a mass exodus" of jobs from the United States to Mexico.

"Most importantly, it does not sufficiently address the wage gap between our two countries," she said.

Brown said in an interview that there needs to be some mechanism in the treaty that requires Mexican wages to increase along with productivity. Even now, she said, some workers in Mexican plants just across the border are as productive as American workers and turning out quality products for just $1.15 an hour.

"I'm saying that if they are as productive as we are, or can be, you've got to have some ratcheting up for wages for it to be an agreement of some fairness," she said. "I had expected the side agreements to cover that."

Brown said the impact on California would be pronounced, because the treaty provides that Mexico will get duty-free access immediately to American markets for 84% of its products. Duty-free access to the Mexican market would be granted to fewer than half the U.S. products, she said.

The treasurer also said the environmental agreement is not tough enough and lacks adequate enforcement provisions. American critics often have complained that Mexico is able to make products cheaply--even aside from labor costs--because manufacturers can skirt Mexico's environmental regulations.

Finally, Brown said, California will be forced to absorb much of the cost of implementing NAFTA, estimated to be $40 billion nationwide.

California must have its own side agreement with Washington to make sure the federal government compensates the state for such costs, she said.

"I've got to tell you," Brown said in the interview, "I feel burned by promises from the federal government. The immigration issue and defense issue are very fresh on my mind as treasurer of California."

Brown said she continues to support the concept of a free trade agreement.

"Free trade can be a key to our economic future," she said in the letter to Clinton. "I urge you to seek an agreement that meets this objective."

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