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Are our children prepared to meet the challenges N.A.F.T.A. will bring?

November 20, 1993

By Yolanda Reynolds

La Oferta Newspaper.

Wednesday. Nov. 17, the North American Free Trade Agreement,  NAFTA was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. The vote was 234 for the agreement and 200 against. The vote, though not as close as expected, reflected a split in opinion of citizens that exists in both the U.S. and Mexico. Although official Mexican reports indicated that a majority of its citizens supported the Agreement, there was a growing unease over the provisions of the trade agreement. It is expected that the U.S. Senate will more readily approve NAFTA than the House.

In Mexico, the most vocal and organized opposition to the Treaty was made by the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (PRD). In California, Democratic party members generally opposed NAFTA. Bay area Democratic House members who voted for NAFTA were Norman Mineta, Anna Eshoo and Sam Farr.

In the United States, labor leaders and “grass roots” environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club opposed the Treaty.

In the United States, as in Mexico, one major objection revolved around the issue of toxic contamination such as that that has been caused by many of the U.S. based multinational and even so the relatively small companies that have recently moved their manufacturing to Mexico. Another major issue was the “exploitation” of the Mexican workers, who are paid far less than they would be paid in the U.S. for the same work.

Critics of the relocation of US. companies in Mexico also point to “unfair labor practices” which, they say, permeate many of these recently relocated manufacturing companies. These concerns have caused some critics of the Treaty to predict that many more hundreds of thousands of jobs will be taken to Mexico by companies seeking lower production costs and access to less stringent, if any, laws pertaining to their industry.

Many predictions have been made. Those who favor the Treaty say that, with or without the Treaty, the jobs that are leaving the U.S. now, will continue to leave. Supporters of the Treaty say that a Treaty with Mexico will encourage those companies that plan to leave to relocate in the Americas rather than in the Far East.

Critics of NAFTA say that although there have been governmental assurances that U.S. environmental laws will not be weakened as a result of the trade agreement this is exactly what is happening now and will likely accelerate as more agreements are enacted. For example, they point to the continued importation of European wines, made from grapes that did not meet U.S. pesticide regulations even after local wine produces protested.

European countries defended the wine export to GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades which is a 103-nation trade pact, and won their case.

Canada had to weaken its pesticide laws to match the weaker laws in the U.S. in another dispute.

Trade agreement partners can appeal more stringent environmental regulations on the basis that the “regulation hamper free trade.” GATT will generally side with those that declare the law, regulation or policy “inhibits trade.”

Much discussion has centered around the impact or potential impact of NAFTA on the environment and the policies that, over time, have been developed to protect it. Critics of NAFTA and the GATT agreement hope that people are now well enough informed of the significance of these agreements and that they will continue to pressure the policy makers, in particular those who promised that they would not allow our laws and policies to be overturned.

Even so, a recent report detailed the increased incidence of Bovine tuberculosis in cattle in the United States because of the increasing importation of cattle from Mexico which has less stringent health and sanitary standards. Cattle industry experts fear that, unchecked, this disease threatens the $70 billion-a-year industry in the United States.

Bovine tuberculosis in cattle, although a serious threat to the cattle industry, is not regarded as a threat to humans and pasteurization kills tuberculosis bacteria in milk.

Bovine tuberculosis in the United States was not considered a problem after an aggressive program to eradicate the disease was made around 1917, when 5% of the cattle in this country were affected by the disease. At that time, they slaughtered hundreds of thousands head of cattle.

In 1992, the incidence of bovine tuberculosis is reported to be 15 times higher than previous tallies – with 613 carcasses of infected cattle. This, after years of evidence that the disease had been essentially eradicated from the United States.

Others less passionate about the details of NAFTA because of the overall United States’ commitments to global trade, say that what should be of most concern to U.S. citizens in the declining quality of American public education.

A recent article by a Mercury News economics writer, Steve Kaufman, reported that a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor, Lester Thurow, indicated that, “we now live in a world where the only thing that determines our standard of living is the premium we place on our educational system”. Kaufman writes that Thurow pointed out that “the United States invests only half as much per capita on public education as the Germans (and the) Japanese”.

How our schools fare can have devastating effects, not only for the children who are not properly educated, but also for the communities served by the schools. Realtors say that the quality of the schools, more than anything else determine the value of properties within a school district. A deficient educational system threatens everyone at a personal level, a local level and a national level. Until the debate over the quality of education is as high profile of as the NAFTA debate, a poorly educated population will lead to the real decline of the United States.

Education and its effectiveness, did become a major topic in California when voters were asked to approve Proposition 174 in the last election. It was clear that the voters did not want to overturn the long held tradition of free public education, however, it has become clear that reform is urgently needed. Perhaps the new trade agreements will now allow the Nation’s attention to turn to serious reform of education, especially at the elementary and secondary levels. © La Oferta Newspaper.


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