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Beilenson Supports Trade Pact : Treaty: He becomes the first area congressman to back NAFTA. Two others will probably oppose it, while another pair remain on the fence.

September 29, 1993|ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Despite intense constituent opposition, Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson said Tuesday that he supports the North American Free Trade Agreement--becoming the first San Fernando Valley-area lawmaker to take a definite stand on the controversial treaty.

At the same time, Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) has all but declared his opposition to the pact. And Rep. Carlos J. Moorhead (R-Glendale) said he has gone from leaning toward voting for NAFTA to probably opposing it.

Reps. Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), meanwhile, say they remain on the fence. Both had earlier said they were inclined to back the accord pending the adoption of side agreements on environmental and labor issues.

Lawmakers report that constituents appear overwhelmingly opposed to the agreement to remove trade barriers between the United States, Canada and Mexico over the next 10 years. Several said concerns that NAFTA would send jobs south to low-wage Mexico--a viewpoint continually emphasized by Ross Perot and many labor unions--has made it the hottest issue on the mail, telephone and town hall circuit.

"The people who are most concerned about it or most vocal about it are, almost without exception, opposed to it," said Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills), who admitted that his support may cost him votes.

At the same time, the board of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., which claims 364 member companies representing 120,000 employees, voted unanimously last week to endorse passage of NAFTA.

VICA members felt that the agreement would open markets in Mexico for Southern California products, said Hank Frazee, co-chairman of a VICA subcommittee on federal issues.

"The long-run appeal is the sense that higher-end jobs will be created," said Frazee, a Connecticut Mutual insurance agent. "And there is somewhat of a sense that there will be a lessening of the incentive for illegal immigrants to come here."

California--and its influential 54-member congressional delegation--is an important battleground for an issue that is expected to have a disproportionate impact on the state.

Beilenson said he supports NAFTA because he believes that free and open trade benefits workers and consumers in the United States as well as other nations. Also, he said exports have been the strongest part of the U. S. economy in recent years, particularly in California, and exports to Mexico have tripled in the past six years.

"What we're talking about here is reducing trade barriers, almost all of which have been erected in Mexico," Beilenson said. "It's clear that we're going to be able to sell even more to them."

He said that even if "the most dire predictions" prove correct, the United States would lose 150,000 relatively low-paying jobs over a 10-year period--far fewer than will eliminated by defense cuts. At the same time, he said, "we will, over the same amount of time, pick up that many or a few more better-paying jobs, so it will even out."

Finally, Beilenson said the agreement could help deter illegal immigration from Mexico because "it will help create additional jobs and wealth, and provide some employment for people there who would otherwise be coming north looking for jobs."

McKeon, in contrast, "is leaning against and would probably vote against it if the vote were tomorrow," spokesman Armando Azarloza said. "His concerns are the amount of jobs that would probably leave the Southern California economy. Over the long run, he sees the benefit of it, but the way the California economy is now, there's just no way he could support it."

Moorhead had a similar view.

"I haven't moved to 'no,' but I am very, very concerned about it," he said. "In the long run, we'll be all right but, with 10% unemployment in California, in the two or three years, you might see considerably more. I don't think the positive side begins to take hold right away."

He noted that he is receiving 15 to 20 calls against NAFTA for each one in favor of it.

In 1991, he voted to give then-President George Bush authority to send NAFTA to Congress without amendment. Moorhead said his position today would be no different if Republican Bush, rather than Democratic President Clinton, was appealing for his support.

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