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NAFTA Has Killed Thousands of U.S. Jobs

The Bush administration trade policy appears to be little more than a plan to trade away America’s jobs, national security and sovereignty. The United States has lost almost 3 million jobs since President Bush took office, and the most devastating losses have occurred in the manufacturing sector, which is most vulnerable to unfair foreign competition.

Throughout America, we see the fruits of the failed policies of the North American Free Trade Agreement — closed factories, a jobless recovery and downward pressure on wages. Across the breadth of our country, from Oregon to Iowa to Ohio to the Carolinas, NAFTA has killed thousands of jobs and left working families with little hope for new employment.

For multinational corporations with the ability to move production to low-wage platforms such as Mexico, an expansion of NAFTA throughout the Western Hemisphere is made to order. But for a textile worker in South Carolina, a tomato farmer in Florida, or an autoworker in the Great Lakes states, NAFTA and the Free Trade Area of the Americas will spell disaster.

NAFTA is approaching its 10th birthday. Ask any American worker standing in the unemployment line: “How has NAFTA affected you?” The answer is always the same: more layoffs, more factory shutdowns, more plants moved out of the country.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas will mean a “free trade” region encompassing 34 nations. To the produce-growing states such as Florida and California, instead of just competing against Mexico, they will have 31 more countries to face. To our beef producers, they will face beef imports from Argentina and other nations. Grains, citrus, cut flowers and just about every manufactured good available in the world will be flooding our markets tariff-free.

Despite the complexities of the agreement, Congress will have a simple up-or-down vote due to the passage of fast-track negotiating authority. The Founding Fathers gave Congress the power to regulate all international commerce. It is right there in the Constitution. But Members of Congress have been content to give away much of that power in the name of “free trade.”

In the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, we are all rightfully concerned about meeting our country’s national security needs. Unfortunately, we have become overly dependent on foreign sources of energy and manufactured goods. How, then, will America defend herself without a manufacturing infrastructure? Will we rely solely on imports?

What kind of trade policy leaves our manufacturing base severely weakened, our environmental laws under constant attack and our standard of living threatened by a global race to the bottom?

It’s time that America had a trade policy that recognizes the need to lift people up on both sides of the border. We need trade agreements that recognize mutual areas of concern.

Trade relationships should yield mutually beneficial economic and social benefits, not a legacy of growing political instability. Instead, NAFTA has turned the U.S. trade surplus with Mexico into a large and growing deficit. Meanwhile, Mexico has witnessed a devaluation of the peso, wage cutbacks and now job terminations in the maquiladora zone due to the U.S. economic slowdown and new competition from China.

Something is seriously wrong when workers do not earn enough to buy what they make. It troubles me greatly that the workers who make the PT Cruiser at the Chrysler plant in Toluca, Mexico, do not earn a living wage; those vehicles are sent to the United States. Yet the workers at the Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio, were summarily turned down when they tried to bid on some portion of the backlogged production. Since all the production from the Toluca plant is sent through the back door into the United States, why shouldn’t the workers be covered by the same collective bargaining agreement?

I raised this issue of continental standards with President Bush when he visited Toledo almost two years ago. In a four-page letter to him, I also proposed the establishment of an “Intercontinental Organization on Working Life and Cooperation in the Americas.” (He still has not answered back.)

In November, I hope to lead a delegation of Members to Mexico just prior to the convening of the FTAA meeting in Miami. When we get to Miami, we hope to tell the trade negotiators and the media what we have seen in Mexico. We hope to share what we have learned about the impact of “NAFTA at Ten” and what that means for the future of the hemisphere.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) is a member of the Appropriations Committee.

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