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Controversy Over NAFTA

September 24, 1993

* I am writing in response to the Column Left (Sept. 9) by Bob Kuttner on NAFTA, which paints the trade agreement as ill-advised policy and bad politics.

President Clinton supports NAFTA because he believes it will produce jobs and enhance our competitiveness in the global economy. That is the bottom line: As is now recognized by all but the pact's most subjective foes, this agreement will create more jobs here in the United States than will be lost due to competition. (In the first two years alone, it will create 200,000 jobs, significantly more than it loses.) Mexico began cutting its tariffs on our goods in 1986. Since then, exports from the U.S. have boomed, transforming a trade deficit to a $5.6 billion trade surplus today. Mexican consumers now buy more from the U.S. than consumers in Europe or Japan.

Any trade agreement between the U.S. and Mexico should ensure that weak environmental enforcement or low wages should not be used to lure American businesses south of the border. That is why the Clinton Administration negotiated unprecedented environmental and labor side agreements to NAFTA. These will impose trade sanctions on Mexico if it does not enforce its own environmental laws (the chief complaint about Mexico has not been its standards, but lack of policing), and allow us to work with Mexico to resolve labor issues. In addition, Mexico has pledged unilaterally to raise its minimum wage as productivity grows.

Ultimately, Kuttner errs by proposing the perfect as the enemy of the good. This agreement will pull Mexico up without pulling us down, and will leave the hemisphere demonstrably more prosperous and less polluted. The bad consequences about which he warns are already happening now, and would continue to happen with or without NAFTA. Our task is to make an inevitably changing world work for us. NAFTA--by creating jobs, boosting exports, and enhancing the environment--will markedly improve the status quo.


Special Counsel to the President

for NAFTA, Washington

* In an atmosphere of narrow vision and political interests, Kuttner's comments on NAFTA expressed a refreshing phenomenon--common sense. NAFTA is too important to this country and its future to be ratified hastily. The agreement deserves better; so does our country.



* The combination of Sen. Barbara Boxer's article, alongside Robert J. Samuelson's excellent analysis of NAFTA and the Kevin Kallaugher cartoon (Commentary, Sept. 16) was great. While her concerns regarding the side agreement on environmental issues are laudable, it's too bad Boxer doesn't understand economics and falls prey to the simplistic "great sucking sound" diatribe of Ross Perot when it comes to her analysis of potential job creation and job loss.

There's much more to the jobs issue than a comparison of wages. As some U.S. firms doing business in Mexico have rudely discovered, low productivity, high absenteeism and difficulties with long-distance management can overshadow gains from the pure wage differential. The percentage of labor costs in U.S. manufacturing is small: 10% and falling. Low wages are much less important in the battle to retain businesses in California and the U.S. than are corporate taxes, workers' compensation costs and the like.

The impact on jobs on our side of the border is likely to be small simply because the Mexican economy is so much smaller than ours and because many of the potential relocations of U.S. firms have taken place already as Mexico has opened up--on its own. If anyone should be threatened by NAFTA over jobs, it's our Asian friends.

NAFTA has clear advantages economically and politically. Its long-term benefits also include an answer to the illegal immigration issue that's overwhelming our educational, human services and judicial infrastructure.


Dean, Graduate School of Management

UC Irvine

* Your front-page article and photo (Sept. 15) are a testament to the perceived, perhaps actual power of Ross Perot. He has been and will continue to be an outspoken opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement. I guess President Clinton thinks it takes a four-President team to have any hope of beating him. That may not even be enough.

I believe the key issue with NAFTA is who will make big money under the agreement and how this money will find its way into the campaign chests of the parties and candidates. Perot understands this. In addition to his anti-NAFTA position, Perot is a threat to Republican and Democratic campaign contributions--that is, splitting the money across three parties rather than two. Thus the presidential team.

Probably nobody knows what NAFTA will really do, but in the long run I think some negative effect on American workers is certain. It might turn out to be a measure reducing illegal immigration.


Fountain Valley

* A recent visit to Mexico confirmed my expectation that Mexicans who oppose NAFTA and North Americans who oppose NAFTA do so for the same reasons.

Rich Mexicans and rich North Americans welcome the opportunity that NAFTA offers to jointly exploit the human and natural resources of Mexico.

Mexican workers understand that low wages are the incentive to attract foreign investment. Wages will be depressed on both sides of the border.

NAFTA is a windfall for multinational corporations. It will make them richer. But for Mexican workers, as for U.S. and Canadian workers, NAFTA is bad news.


Los Angeles

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