The one month countdown to the Congressional vote on the supragovernmental agreement with Mexico and Canada, known as NAFTA, has begun. Big business forces that are pro-NAFTA are launching a multimillion dollar television campaign on your screens. NAFTA means jobs, they say. Organized labor, which knows a little about job losses in the past decade to runaway plants, using serf-workers, and selling back to the U.S., is also televising its anti-NAFTA viewpoints, though with less frequency.
My concerns about NAFTA are that it will further weaken our internal democratic sovereignty. It will erode the rights of citizens to determine health safety and worker standards in our country without being compelled to deal with the external, autocratic tribunals of NAFTA and the 120 nation General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) revisions coming to Congress from Clinton probably next year.
Pro-NAFTA proponents in Congress, the Clinton Administration, business associations and among narrow-gauged economists have several common characteristics. One is that just about none of them have read the bulky two volume NAFTA agreement. Second is that they view NAFTA in purely economic terms, within narrow trade model assumptions, and ignore its political and non-law enforcement provisions that embody its corporatist ideology.
As a result, proponents make the most falsely decisive predictions about NAFTA’s impact on the U.S., Mexican and Canadian economies–predictions that avoid the known empirical records of Mexico’s dictatorial, repressive regime and the current behavior of new U.S. factories operating just across the border in Mexico in awful polluting and workplace conditions.
NAFTA has not been subject to grassroots discussion and debate by the American people who have been shut out by the very secretive and autocratic methods that NAFTA-critics have charged this supragovernmental agreement with promoting in the future. Negotiated in secrecy by Bush functionaries and corporate lobbyists, NAFTA moves to Congress under an autocratic “Fast Track” law that limits debate to 20 hours and prohibits any amendments to this 2000 page deal. This alone should put up a yellow light to citizens who believe in deliberative democracy and legislative judgments on what is wrong and what is right in these pages.
Clinton last October delivered a long address on NAFTA and listed about a dozen areas which he said needed to be fixed–such as food safety, truck safety, worker retraining, more democratic dispute-resolution procedures etc. His recently approved side-agreements did not fix them. So, Clinton’s own words, that enforceability of the laws by all signatory countries is essential, have remained just that–words.
The core question is whether our modest democracy can enter into an economic union with a repressive dictatorial regime, composed of a few very wealthy ruling families, government officials and their police power.
Opponents of the Bush NAFTA say no, because worker, consumer and environmental laws in Mexico won’t be enforced since the ruling oligarchy profits from their non-enforcement. And the oppressed Mexican people do not have the democratic rights, remedies and free elections to do anything about it.
As many an American smallbusiness person can sadly narrate, Mexico is not a place where the rule of law reigns. The rule of power, the rule of the bribe (mordida) are what counts. In business dealings, Americans have been thrown in jail without due process, had their contracts broken, their assets stolen and some of their stories reported on page one of the Wall St Journal.
These businesspeople got a taste of what the ordinary Mexican worker, consumer, citizen or brutalized peaceful protestors receive regularly. The 60 year long ruling party, known as PRI, routinely steals elections, including the 1988 election that put President Salinas in power. There are no independent courts, no civil rights, civil liberties, no worker laws enforcement for minimum wage, health and safety, no freedom of speech, no pollution controls for the masses in Mexico. Typical of a dictatorial plutocracy, if you are rich, powerful or otherwise well-connected, the paper laws can be invoked to support your position.
Laws that are not enforced under NAFTA become unfair competitive advantages. For example, an American factory closes down in Missouri and goes to Mexico where even weak worker, environmental, tax and other laws go unenforced. This transplanted factory can then sell its products back into the U.S. in competition with a factory that stayed in the U.S. and followed the rules.
Under NAFTA, the U.S. government can complain before a secret commission that is structurally unable to make a decision for many months, much less enforce it. Our courts have no role in these matters.
What’s more, NAFTA, contrary to its proponents’ false claims, exposes our federal, state and local laws on health and safety, for instance, to challenge by foreign countries before these commissions.
Trade matters subordinate health and safety values under NAFTA and revised GATT. It’s already happening. Under the U.S.-Canada trade agreement of 1988, Canada is suing the U.S. saying that our asbestos phaseout is really a trade barrier keeping out Canadian asbestos. The asbestos phaseout is to protect workers and consumers from a very hazardous substance that has taken tens of thousands of American lives.
When you want a local, state and federal safety law to protect your families, the workplace or the environment, do you think secret tribunals in Mexico City, Rome and Geneva should contradict what our nation decides is best for its people? That issue and economic unions that entrench dictatorial regimes are the two topics you won’t find the national media paying much attention to in the coming weeks.
But you can make sure your members of Congress do.