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Citizens shut out.

During his Presidential campaign, Bill Clinton embraced the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the stipulation that legislation be tacked on to protect the environment and aid displaced workers.

While politically astute, Clinton's proposed legislation will have no significant impact on NAFTA. Americans will still have to deal with the painful legacy of the Bush Administration's undemocratic, secretly conceived agenda for the future of this nation.

Clinton said he wants to use NAFTA to "advance the interest of ordinary Americans." But ordinary Americans are the ones who will suffer, regardless of implementing legislation, if NAFTA is ratified by Congress. A few hundred multinational corporations will reap the benefits of the agreement, at the expense of workers, communities, and the environment.

For instance, under NAFTA, if a Mexican corporation decided to "bootleg" Madonna's new video, the American video company could use trade sanctions against the bootlegger. But if Pillsbury decided to free some of its industrial waste in the Mexican town of Matamoros, the citizens in that community would have no such mechanism for dispute resolution. This inequality has led one critic to dub NAFTA a "corporate bill of rights." Bill Clinton has proposed measures to "fill in the gaps" in this agreement, but no amount of putty can correct this intentionally gaping discrepancy.

NAFTA is the result of what one member of Congress called "fifteen months of the most secretive trade negotiations I've ever monitored." 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.

Now that the text has been completed, it is hard to imagine how Congress, which is supposedly so obtuse, will be able to make an intelligent decision in the allotted ninety days. Is this enough time to understand the accord and inform constituents? Not if NAFTA stands to be as far-reaching and profound as both proponents and critics expect.

Since the NAFTA negotiations began, citizens' groups representing labor, environmental, and religious concerns have tried hard to get a peek at the details. A fortunate few managed to obtain a leaked copy of the first complete draft of the text, which was finished in a Dallas hotel room last February. Others had to rely on the business pages to provide them with clues. Luckily for NAFTA proponents, few people read the business pages.

When NAFTA was completed on September 8, the U.S. trade representative's office began allowing interested citizens to view the 2,000-page document--for one hour. If this wasn't a sufficient amount of time, you could purchase a copy from Kinko's for $115. Those who cannot afford the document may be unpleasantly surprised when NAFTA comes to their town.

Because of NAFTA's structural problems, even a great amount of reform will be woefully inadequate. Clinton may have garnered a few extra votes by calling for legislation to care for workers displaced by NAFTA, and he has moved in the right direction with his call for implementing legislation, but his plan does not go far enough. Global firms will continue to set up environmentally unsound factories in Mexico to gain unfair advantage in the U.S. market until trade sanctions are included in the text of the agreement.

Clinton should be thinking of preventive measures for job loss, unsafe working conditions, and environmental catastrophes, not dubious remedies after the fact.
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Title Annotation:North American Free Trade Agreement
Author:Weintraub, Jeremy
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:The envelope, please.
Next Article:Last words from Petra Kelly.

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