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While a NAFTA is needed, this is not NAFTA we need.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, once regarded as a "done deal," looks more questionable with each passing day. The more people ponder it, the more apparent its flaws become.

For months, congressional committees have waded through NAFTA's 2,000-plus pages and two side agreements on labor and environmental standards. They still await more concrete administration proposals to correct its major flaws. Expected, for example, are new initiatives to create an environmental development fund and to retrain workers displaced by NAFTA.

The policy process has been flawed and far from democratic from the start. The secret NAFTA deliberations largely excluded the Mexican, Canadian and American publics from the negotiating process until the latest stages, when the major components of NAFTA were all but set.

Only large transnational companies - many of them leaders of USA*NAFTA, a coalition of more than 2,300 corporations created to drum up support for NAFTA - sat in large numbers on the NAFTA advisory committee. By contrast, organized labor had only one seat.

Many of these companies are major polluters with a history of shifting jobs from the United States to low-wage countries, including Mexico.

By easing restrictions on U.S. investment in Mexico while failing to ensure higher environmental standards and worker rights protection, NAFTA will make such job transfers easier.

In the last couple of months, elements of civil society from all three nations - small farmers, human rights and religious groups, community-based. nongovernmental organizations and academics - have become more vocal. Many have urged Congress and the Mexican and Canadian governments to say "No to this NAFTA!" We believe they make a strong moral and economic case.

To choose between NAFTA and no NAFTA, say its backers, is to choose between a prosperous free-trade future and a beggar-thy-neighbor protectionist past. The real choice may more accurately rest between two futures: one, represented by NAFTA, conceived and crafted for private corporate gain; and an alternative future, based on policies that would serve the needs of a greater swath of society - workers, small farmers, indigenous peoples, the poor, and the communities from which they come.

NAFTA, as proposed, is based on the "trickle-down, corporate-dominated development" model that has already failed in Canada, says Action Canada Network chair Tony Clarke. Clarke, who went on leave from the Canadian Catholic Conference to organize against NAFTA, recounted to NCR the impact on Canadians of the 1988 U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement on which NAFTA is modeled: a Canadian job loss rate proportionately four-times higher than in the United States; erosion of social service programs; and declining labor standards.

NAFTA is "little more than a corporate bill of rights" that "accentuates the priority of capital over labor, over communities," argues Clarke.

"Yet, as (Pope John Paul II's encyclical) Laborem Exercens, tells us, human labor should take priority."

Americans who fear loss of jobs under NAFTA may also be startled to learn that many Mexicans feel the same way. Mexicans are being forced from rural areas by laws - rammed through the Mexican Parliament by the antidemocratic Salinas government under U.S. pressure - which have privatized land farmed by cooperatives since 1910. By forcing Mexico's grain market open to major U.S. grain producers, NAFTA will undermine both Mexico's food self-sufficiency and the economic base of many of its rural communities. Where will those displaced from these rural areas head? Most likely to the United States, given Mexico's current 40 percent unemployment rate, again making a mockery of a major administration goal for NAFTA: reduced immigration.

Mexicans think NAFTA will do little to benefit the poor, but a lot to solidify the economic power base of the dictatorial Salinas government, recently cited by Amnesty International, Americas Watch and the U.N. Commission on Torture for widespread human rights violations.

In late September, two U.S. grassroots coalitions - the Alliance for Responsible Trade and the Citizens Trade Campaign - joined similar groupings from Mexico and Canada to urge broader democratic debate on NAFTA. As Cleveland Bishop Anthony M. Pilla noted in testimony before a 1991 hearing on NAFTA, moral choice should guide market forces, trade must have a human face, and "any benefit or adverse impact [from trade should] be equitably shared." NAFTA as proposed fails to do any of this.

NAFTA places no priority on ending poverty and does little to ensure the dignity of work or the rights of workers, principles grounded in traditional Catholic social teachings. Unless it does so, noted Mexican Bishop Carlos Quintero Arce of Hermusillo in Sonora, it "will just widen the gap between those who have much and those who have nothing."

The World Bank and U.N. Population Fund, in recent reports, highlighted the importance of reducing poverty to ensure sustainable development and reduce people's need to migrate elsewhere to find work and a decent standard of living. If NAFTA will do little more than modernize poverty across North America, why should it win our support or that of our legislators?
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Title Annotation:North American Free Trade Agreement
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 29, 1993
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