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
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. …