The groups that fought against NAFTA particularly the citizens' coalitions formed by labor, environmental, consumer, family farm and other groups are proud that they took on practically the entire Fortune 500 and nearly won. (The vote was 234 to 200 in the House). At the same time, the experience was a chilling reminder of how things work in Washington.
USA NAFTA representing more economic clout than many nation- states wrapped its self-serving lobbying campaign in an American flag. During the past two years, that flag has proved to have an exceptionally slick Teflon coating. The group has suffered neither negative publicity nor political disfavor, despite NAFTA's miserable results so far. Nor have USA NAFTA members drawn fire for the way they contributed to and benefited from the failure of NAFTA to fulfill its stated promises. Their star-spangled report, NAFTA: It's Working for America, opens with a quote from USA NAFTA Chair and AlliedSignal CEO Lawrence Bossidy. Today, it is clear that NAFTA is a success, he proclaims. Exports to Mexico and Canada are up, and we've been able to create thousands of new jobs here in the United States. By any standards, NAFTA is surely a winner.
As Bossidy indicates, U.S. exports to Mexico did indeed increase in 1994. However, what the report fails to point out is that during that time, U.S. imports from Mexico increased at a faster rate and displaced U.S. jobs by muscling out American products. Since the peso devaluation in December 1994, the U.S. trade surplus with Mexico has turned into a large and growing deficit expanding from $885 million in May 1994 to $6.9 billion a year later, and thereby wiping out any basis for claiming that NAFTA is a net job creator for U.S. workers.
The bulk of the USA*NAFTA report is a state-by-state listing of jobs created by NAFTA. However, a careful examination reveals a sleight of hand. Almost all of the job claims are empty statements by USA NAFTA firms that they intend to hire more workers, not that they have already created actual jobs.
Although USA NAFTA's work was completed with the passage of the agreement, the coalition continues to play an important political role in supporting the free trade model. When President Clinton was attempting to mobilize congressional support for the financial bailout of Mexico in January 1995, he arranged for lobbyists from 150 USA NAFTA firms to meet in Washington. Business Week reported that Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), Clinton's chief congressional strategist on NAFTA, told the group, You got us NAFTA. Now you can deliver on this one, too. The article described USA NAFTA's strategy as two-fold: mobilizing its troops to voice their support for the bailout package, and fear-mongering among border state legislators by claiming that an aborted bailout might trigger a flood of illegal immigrants.
In the end, Clinton did not need USA NAFTA's help on the bailout, since he opted to bypass Congress with an executive order. However, the administration is clearly confident that the old USA NAFTA gang can still wield enough influence and con artistry to help push another free trade agreement through Congress. Otherwise, the administration might not have rushed into its latest round of trade negotiations aimed at expanding NAFTA to include Chile. President Clinton reportedly would like to push the expanded NAFTA through Congress before the 1996 election. When that bill comes up for a vote, USA NAFTA's patriotic neckties will no doubt reappear in the halls of Congress. CovertAction Quarterly has won numerous awards for investigative journalism. It is read around the world by investigative reporters, activists, scholars, intelligence buffs, news junkies, and anyone who wants to know the news and analysis behind the soundbites and headlines. Recommended by Noam Chomsky; targeted by the CIA.