Bush's "challenge" at the UN

"The United States is ready to eliminate all tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to free flow of goods and services as other nations do the same," Bush told other leaders.

"The elimination of trade barriers could lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the next 15 years."

Sounds pretty spectacular, doesn't it? I happened to catch this part of the speech on TV Wednesday morning. Bush was stopping and emphasizing and pausing and looking around as though he expected the UN delegates to burst out in relief and applause and to hail him as a great liberating hero. They remained unmoved for reasons that I fully understand. NAFTA, and Bush's plan sounds as though it's based on that same set of ideas, has had a rather unspectacular career. "The Clinton administration made passage of the agreement its major legislative initiative in 1993." Funny thing though, NAFTA was not an achievement Clinton bragged about as he ran for re-election in 1996. The Golden Gater related a story from the campaign:

Brown added that the president's push to implement the North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may have cost him votes. According to labor leaders, the agreement to open markets between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico would cost many jobs.

"NAFTA still has a great resonance in the East Bay," Brown said. "It was a hotbed of anti-NAFTA sentiment because of the perceived loss of jobs," Brown added.

One union member in the crowd cited specific numbers. "We've lost 60,000 jobs since that thing (NAFTA) has been in place and that's according to their own (the government's) figures," he said.

While Clinton steered clear of NAFTA, he assured the crowd that his administration is making a strong effort to create jobs across the country.

The Green Party of Virginia pointed out some reasons for Clinton to steer clear of the issue, saying that:

Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and Jesse Helms were some of Clinton's closest allies in passing NAFTA and GATT in Congress. An overwhelming majority of Democrats voted against NAFTA, but it passed because sellout Democrats joined Clinton and the Republicans for a majority.

Informed Zapatistas rebelled on the day that NAFTA became law. In the Maquiladora precursor to NAFTA, even the Mexican minimum wage had been pushed down, so Zapatistas knew it would be brutal for the Mexican working class. Since the implementation of NAFTA, in all three nations affected, thousands of workers have lost good jobs and average wages have dropped. The promise by NAFTA supporters that Mexican wages would be raised to ease illegal U.S. immigration problems has been revealed to be untrue, as Mexican workers, worse off by far, now make northern border crossings at increased rates.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research adds that:

There are grounds for debating whether Mexico was a net gainer or loser from NAFTA. However, given the poor growth performance by Mexico in the post-NAFTA decade, it is difficult to contend that NAFTA increased Mexico’s growth rate during this period. The World Bank’s evidence for this claim rests on a test performed with mistaken data. When the same test is performed using standard data sources, it shows that NAFTA was associated with slower growth. Contrary to the claims of the World Bank study, the World Bank’s own analysis, properly done, would suggest that NAFTA led to slower growth in Mexico over the last decade.

NAFTA may have benefited people among the economically well-off, but there is little reason to believe that the poor will gain anything by extending it. The UN delegates were entirely correct to greet Bush's "challenge" with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

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