PRESIDENT Clinton has returned to town to finish a task begun by
One of the most pressing matters on Mr. Clinton's fall agenda -
pressing because of a Jan. 1 deadline to implement the pact - is
passing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
NAFTA was envisioned and negotiated by then-President Bush, and
the Republican roots of the agreement are showing. As Clinton
returned to town, he was greeted by a warning on a Sunday talk show
from Rep. David Bonior (D) of Michigan, the House majority whip,
that two-thirds to three-quarters of House Democrats will oppose
NAFTA. Most Republicans in both chambers favor it.
Democratic support for NAFTA is weakened by concern that
American jobs and environmental standards will be undercut by
But the politics of NAFTA also tap another issue with rising
power, one that some political analysts and strategists foresee as
a dominant concern in the 1990s - immigration.
In a United States where middle-income jobs feel increasingly
insecure, the urban underclass seems increasingly volatile and
alienated, and traditional Anglo-American, middle-class culture is
increasingly on the defensive, politicians are increasingly seeking
ways to control American borders.
One selling point for a free-trade agreement with Mexico has
been that it would make Mexico more prosperous and gradually cut
the incentive for Mexicans to seek work in the US, where wages are
nine times higher on average.
Mexicans form the largest group of immigrants to the US, and
gauging by the legalization programs of the 1980s, they account for
about 75 percent of illegal immigrants.
But the effect of NAFTA on immigration is neither clear nor
simple to foresee. Most economists who have set up forecasting
models indeed see substantial long-term benefits to the Mexican
economy that would eventually stem the flow of Mexican workers into
the US. But it is likely to take five-to-15 years for that effect
to become significant.
In the meantime, NAFTA may actually increase emigration from
American grain and corn farmers produce for roughly half the
cost per ton of small-scale, inefficient Mexican farmers. Those
Mexicans are widely expected to be among the first economic
casualties of NAFTA. Once displaced, many may head north and begin
the traditional climb into the American economy as farm workers.
Another possible source of increase is that Mexican production
geared for US markets is likely to develop along the country's
northern border, bringing workers into the orbit of the lucrative
US job market. …