Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Distrust Stands in Nafta's Way

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Distrust Stands in Nafta's Way

Article excerpt

YOU DON'T have to scratch hard at what's going on with the North American Free Trade Agreement to turn up two things: fear and distrust.

Even as he was trying on behalf of the Clinton administration to sell the NAFTA in a recent interview, Labor Secretary Robert Reich had to admit that. Listen to some of his descriptions of the atmosphere in which the trade pact among the United States, Mexico and Canada is expected to come to a vote in Congress next month:

"We are experiencing a higher degree of insecurity in the jobs market that at any time in the post-war era."

"NAFTA is a lightning rod because people read the papers. They see every day there's corporate downsizing. There's defense downsizing. Americans are scared."

"People are worried because the jobs that are coming back are not terribly secure. About 25 percent of them are temporary."

"A job today and even the small chance of that job disappearing is much more potent, shall we say, than two or three jobs that have not yet been formed in the future."

"There is a deep residue of distrust toward American companies. That, when coupled with the job anxiety felt by blue-collar America and even America's white-collar middle class, is a potent combination which could very well resist change."

"There's a risk that Americans who are insecure about their jobs will take actions that hurt the future of this country, unwittingly, simply because of that present fear."

Of course, as part of the administration, Reich staunchly promotes the free trade pact. He cites its potential to increase exports to Mexico. He raises the possibility that, without NAFTA, other countries like Japan and Germany will use Mexico as a back door to the American market. He talks about the new jobs - 171,000 in a study by the Institute for International Economics - most economists predict it will create.

But the frustrating part of the NAFTA debate is that, so far, there's been very little attempt to allay the fears and change the distrust. Supporters seem to ignore it, as if somehow it will go away. Opponents play on those fears to defeat NAFTA.

Here are some of the things driving the fear:

Just this year, more than 2 million Americans are probably going to lose their jobs - permanently. …

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