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Much ado about NAFTA.

Will African-Americans benefit from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)? That question will get a variety of uncertain responses depending upon who is asked. However, one certainty is that a majority of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) believe that NAFTA is not an idea whose time has come.

NAFTA's supporters say making North America one large market, with virtually uninhibited trade of goods and services between the United States, Canada and Mexico, will increase American competitiveness with Europe and Japan, decrease illegal immigration (primarily from Mexico) and provide steady job creation as demand for U.S. products grows. They point to statistics that say access to Mexican consumers means higher salaries for U.S. workers (see chart).


Detractors see our workers suffering as U.S. exports fail to rapidly increase and as jobs, not goods, are exported to Mexico. In September, 36 of 39 CBC members took a caucus vote against NAFTA, citing the loss of jobs to Mexico; environmental concerns; a dearth of minority business opportunities; and the treaty's impact on trade in the Caribbean. In October, BLACK ENTERPRISE conducted a straw poll of CBC members and found only one staunch NAFTA supporter: Rep. Gary Franks of Connecticut--the CBC's sole GOP member. His view is that multinational blocs exist and that in order to compete America must join one. Franks also believes that the citizens of his state will benefit from new exports to Mexico.

However, most of Frank's CBC colleagues disagree with treaty supporters who say that while Mexican workers will take jobs at the lower end of the skills ladder, American workers may move up to better paying jobs. Many African-Americans are disproportionately mired in low-wage jobs. It is unlikely that they will move up to higher-paying jobs, especially since the U.S. Labor Department has not devised an effective worker retraining scheme--or the means to pay for one--that will cushion the political fallout from NAFTA. Thus, low-wage and underskilled black workers are more likely to stay where they are or fall off the post-NAFTA job ladder completely.

The CBC's aggrievement is also felt in an issue affecting the African diaspora. Durign the '80s, Republican administrations touted the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) as a means to spur economic growth in the region. Now, NAFTA, which will free exports of Mexican citrus, sugar and textile goods, threatens to beggar the relatively well-paid Caribbean workers in the same industries. Caribbean nations are not part of the accord.

However, BE discovered some fence-sitters among the CBC members. Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), whose district includes the port of New Orleans and thus would benefit from increased trade in either direction, was leaning toward approval. By contrast, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) was inclined to vote no. While he admits that NAFTA may create more jobs in the long run, he says that none are likely to be found in his district. And he wonders how open borders will affect the importation of illegal drugs.

According to Alexis M. Herman, an assistant to President Clinton and director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, such ambivalence in Congress is typical--and a challenge to overcome. "We've discovered in closed briefings that most of Congress agrees that NAFTA is good for the country," says Herman. "But, for many of them, that view is tough to sell, politically, in their home districts."

One thing is certain: if the vote on NAFTA is as close as predicted, the CBCs votes are likely to make the difference between its passage and its demise.
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Title Annotation:Congressional Black Caucus opposition to North American Free Trade Agreement
Author:McCoy, Frank
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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