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    Administrator Jean's Avatar
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    NAFTA & politics: Trade pact renegotiation sought

    NAFTA & politics: Trade pact renegotiation sought
    By Vic Kolenc / El Paso Times
    Article Launched: 09/21/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT


    EL PASO -- The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement became a hot issue in the Democratic presidential primaries, and some unions and other groups are pushing to make it and other free-trade agreements issues in the closing weeks of this year's presidential race.
    "We want to raise up the issue of trade and how important it is," said Marc Jacobson, director of the Texas Fair Trade Coalition in Dallas, an organization of about 40 unions and other groups that blames NAFTA for lost factory jobs in the United States and opposes other free-trade agreements modeled after NAFTA. It wants to see NAFTA and other trade agreements renegotiated.

    "It's an issue that affects workers strongly and affects jobs, and we need to make sure our elected officials -- those being voted on this election -- support the interest of workers," Jacobson said.

    The Texas Fair Trade Coalition and Unite Here, a union representing garment, hotel and restaurant workers, held a "town hall" meeting in El Paso last week to hear from workers who lost jobs because of free trade, to show workers where the presidential candidates stand on free trade, and to drum up support for a bill in the U.S. Congress calling for review and renegotiation of existing trade agreements.

    Jacobson said the coalition doesn't endorse candidates. But Unite Here has endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama.

    Nakia Prince, 33, a worker at the Lear Corp. distribution center in El Paso and president of Unite Here union 2705, said, "Trade is an issue among workers in this election. We want this NAFTA thing to end or get renegotiated so we have job security."

    Obama has said he wants to renegotiate NAFTA to strengthen labor and environmental standards. But in recent months, he's toned down his harsh attacks against NAFTA made during the primary season. He's also backed away from a stand that he supported using a "potential opt-out" of NAFTA to get a renegotiation. He told Fortune magazine in June that he would open up dialogue with Canada and Mexico, but he would not unilaterally reopen negotiations on NAFTA.

    Obama also told Fortune that he continues to be a "proponent of free trade."

    Republican presidential candidate John McCain continues to strongly support NAFTA and other free-trade agreements. He supports a proposed free-trade agreement with Colombia, while Obama opposes it. Obama supported a free-trade agreement with Peru, but did not vote on it.

    Jerry Pacheco, executive director of the International Business Accelerator at Santa Teresa, which helps companies tap into markets in Mexico and other countries, said he expected NAFTA and other trade agreements to continue to be an "underlying issue" in the presidential race, especially in the Midwest where, he said, NAFTA has been painted as "the world's worst thing."

    "The anti-NAFTA rhetoric is a lot stronger on the Democratic side," but after the election, whoever is president, will "act with less rhetoric and more logic," Pacheco said.

    Renegotiating NAFTA would be "disastrous for the United States' reputation in the world. We agreed to this, and now we're changing our mind? The U.S. is a bellwether for open trade, and has benefited from that and is a great nation for that," Pacheco said.

    "If something needs fixed (in NAFTA), then fix it" through other mechanisms available in NAFTA, Pacheco said.

    Santiago Ibarreche, a professor of management and director of the Center for Hispanic Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at El Paso, said he expects NAFTA and trade to be talked about more toward the end of the election. But a lot of the talk will continue to be boiled down to sound bites, he said.

    "If we renegotiate the whole treaty, that would do a lot of damage to the U.S. economy," Ibarreche said. It might be possible to renegotiate some labor and environmental issues, he said. For example, "if we could get NADBank to finance more training for displaced workers, I'd be in favor of that. But just renegotiating because we don't like the final product is not fair or realistic."

    Ibarreche said every government policy has winners and losers but, he said, NAFTA has been good for El Paso.

    "There are job losses, but also a gain of jobs," Ibarreche said. El Paso's unemployment rate is "very low compared to what it used to be," he said. El Paso's unemployment rate dropped to a historic low of 5 percent in April, but has risen in recent months. It was 6.4 percent in August, state data show.

    Prince, the Lear distribution center worker and union official, blames NAFTA for factory jobs he lost at Hasbro and AII Technologies. He worries that distribution center jobs in El Paso will vanish if another part of NAFTA goes through -- allowing Mexican trucks to haul loads from Mexico factories to the interior of the United States.

    The U.S. House of Representatives last week voted to end a pilot program established by the Bush Administration to allow up to 500 Mexican trucks access to U.S. highways. A similar proposal to end the pilot project is pending in the U.S. Senate.

    Unions and environmental groups have been fighting for years to stop the Bush administration from implementing the Mexican truck access provision in NAFTA.

    Pacheco, at the International Business Accelerator, said distribution centers in El Paso may be hurt if the trucking provision is carried through. But allowing Mexican trucks to carry cargo beyond the border will make logistics more efficient and less costly, and that will help consumers get lower-priced products, he said.

    Prince said, "NAFTA was a big mistake. We've lost more jobs than we gained. A lot of plants moved to Juárez because labor costs are cheaper. ... I'd like to see NAFTA renegotiated and see more jobs come back."

    Jacobson, the Texas Fair Trade Coalition director, said federal data show more than 24,000 El Paso jobs were lost due to free trade policies. Getting back lost factory jobs isn't likely even if NAFTA is renegotiated, he said. But improving provisions in the agreement could give U.S. workers a more level field to compete on, he said.

    Pacheco said studies have been "very inconclusive if more jobs were lost or created" due to NAFTA.

    A 2003 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace study concluded "NAFTA has caused either no net change in (U.S.) employment or a very small net gain of jobs." It "produced a disappointingly small net gain of jobs in Mexico."

    A 2004 Congressional Research Service review of four NAFTA studies, including the Carnegie study, concluded "NAFTA has had only a modest, but positive, effect on the U.S. and Mexican economies."

    Pacheco said his father lost his logging business in New Mexico after a free-trade agreement between the United States and Canada began in 1989 -- making it impossible to compete with Canadian timber imports. His father had to adjust by opening a retail store, he said.

    "That's the (free) market economy. If you're not strong enough to compete" in one area, Pacheco said, "then do something else where you can compete."

    Vic Kolenc may be reached at vkolenc@elpasotimes.com, 546-6421






    NAFTA facts

    The North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada was ratified by the three countries' legislatures in 1993. It narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 234-200 and the U.S. Senate by a vote of 60-38.

    President Clinton signed NAFTA into law in December 1993. NAFTA took effect Jan. 1, 1994.

    Before NAFTA, Mexican tariffs on U.S. imports were 250 percent higher than U.S. tariffs on Mexican imports. As of Jan. 1, 2008, all tariffs between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada have been eliminated.
    Source: www.about.com



    Trade Act

    The Trade (Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment) Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress in June.

    It calls for a review of existing trade agreements by the Government Accountability Office.

    It would require the president to submit renegotiation plans for current trade pacts prior to negotiating new agreements.

    U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are the main sponsors of the bill.
    Source: U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown press release.

    http://www.elpasotimes.com/business/ci_10518591
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  2. #2
    Senior Member agrneydgrl's Avatar
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    Nobama also said it probably wouldn't do any good to revisite it. In other words, he will do nothing about it.

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