Give NAFTA Its Due Americans Have Taken Little Note of the Free-Trade Negotiations with Mexico; That's Puzzling, Given What the US Stands to Gain from the Pact

Article excerpt

NOTWITHSTANDING the flurry of articles and op-ed pieces in the mainstream press during last spring's fast-track debate, most United States media organizations have dropped the ball on reporting progress in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks. Tracking NAFTA negotiations via the United States media is practically impossible; even such respected publications as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post have failed to report on all but the most salient aspects of the proposed accords.

Not that the negotiation progress has been slow. In a remarkably short period, NAFTA negotiators from Canada, Mexico, and the US have managed to hammer out agreements on all but a handful of issues.

Moreover, Mexico's chief negotiator, Herminio Blanco Mendoza, seems willing to bend on the two most politically sensitive sectors for the Mexicans: agriculture and energy. The US team, led by Trade Representative Carla Hills, similarly has expressed a willingness to compromise on financial services and textiles. For its part, Canada is likely to go along with any agreement that will open market access to Mexico's 84 million potential consumers, as long as it doesn't compromise the existing US-Canada free-trade accords. A draft text for NAFTA, once thought not possible before the end of the year, is now expected to be completed within a few weeks.

Unlike their US counterparts, Mexican journalists have been diligent in their reporting of the NAFTA negotiations and related issues. Almost daily NAFTA headlines crowd the front pages of Mexico City's most prestigious dailies. Television newscasters track the agreement's blow-by-blow progress as though they were reporting from the front lines of a war.

One way to account for the disparity in US and Mexican coverage of the NAFTA negotiations is the persistent Eurocentric attitude that has long prevailed in US economic relations and the consequent East/West focus of most news organizations.

A second, less obvious reason, is the general misconception in many newsrooms regarding the relative importance of NAFTA to the economies of the three countries involved in the talks. The media consensus is that Mexico will be the chief beneficiary of any continent-wide trade agreement, followed by Canada, with the US a distant third. Supporting this belief is that fact that Mexico accounts for just 7 percent of total US trade, while the US accounts for 70 percent of all Mexican imports and exports.

BUT the raw trade figures tell a half-truth at best. Even at only 7 percent, Mexico is still the US's third most important trading partner, after Canada and Japan. Bilateral trade between the two countries (including services) amounted to nearly $76 billion in 1991. That trade increased an average of 18 percent a year over the last four years, and created an estimated 300,000 jobs north of the border. …


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