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NAFTA Turns 10; Debate Still Lingers

posted on January 9, 2004


With an estimated eight to 10 million undocumented immigrants working in the U.S., the president's proposal would have an impact on the job market. It also would affect the Mexican job market, which can ill afford the loss of qualified workers.

It takes the average Mexican worker 50 years to double his standard of living. It takes the average American 30 years, which explains why the U.S. is such a job magnet for Mexican workers.

But it's not just the workers leaving Mexico, it's also the jobs. Textile and automobile industry jobs which fled the U.S. for Mexico when the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed already have left Mexico for even cheaper labor havens like China.

Indeed, as NAFTA celebrates its 10th birthday, supporters and opponents alike still debate its impact and ponder its future.

NAFTA Turns 10; Debate Still Lingers A decade ago, NAFTA broke down trading barriers between the United States, Canada and Mexico. The three countries hoped the agreement would eliminate obstacles to trade and facilitate movement of goods and services throughout North America. The alliance created the world's largest trading partnership.

Economists and analysts report the agreement led to net gains for all three countries involved. In Mexico's case, exports grew and the auto industry flourished. While, Canada and U.S. trade alone is valued at 1.4 billion dollars a day. Supporters say the trade agreement did not erode jobs in the U.S. as many had feared.

Even so, opponents claim thousands of jobs were lost in all three countries because of the pact, widening the gap between rich and poor and ignoring issues like the environment, worker rights and economic security. Among the hardest hit domestically were Florida Tomato Producers.

JOHN M. HIMMELBERG, FLORIDA TOMATO EXCHANGE: "...the Florida tomato folks and other fruits and vegetable folks said they were going to get hurt by NAFTA. They said it would open the door to basically a flood of fruits and vegetables into the United States. The International Trade Commission said, "We think the injury will be moderate." We still don't know what that means, but the tomato growers went from 200 tomato growers to probably under 70, 80 now."

According to the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico grew by 121 billion dollars in NAFTA's first ten years. Mexican exports to the U.S. grew 242 percent.

Critics of the trade agreement claim the U.S. exported many of its manufacturing jobs to Mexico. But, in the past three years, Mexico has lost some 200,000 of the higher-paying jobs, first brought by the accord, to China.

One thing on which opponents and supporters do agree is that NAFTA continues to be a work in progress.


Tags: agriculture economy Mexico news trade