We told ’em it wouldn’t work

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Okay folks, I’ve had enough. Americans are sitting comfortably on our collective prosperity as jobs and our future are hemorrhaging into Mexico and other countries. In my untrained opinion, much of this problem can be traced to the signings of NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement) and GATT (General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs).

When NAFTA and GATT were approved, the theory was that it would open free trade across borders and cost this country less to export goods to other countries, increasing sale of our products.

But this free trade works both ways. When these agreements were being considered, southern people involved with textiles and agriculture tried to tell the nation that they would be a catastrophe for our country. No one listened, especially no one in Washington, DC.

You could probably search all day and find no one more ignorant of import/export laws and international commerce than I, but some things just make sense and some don’t. For instance, overall the American dollar has stood tall against currency from other countries for generations. That means our dollars will buy more from other countries, but doesn’t that also mean other countries’ people have less money to buy our products?

Another clue should have come from knowing that other countries do not insist on the same standard of living we like for our workers. We rightfully want our workers to be adults with safe working conditions, hospitalization insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, retirement and other perks to make life better. So doesn’t that mean those countries pay workers less and through trade we accept the violation of human rights?

Also, other places do not legislate the same standard of environmental protections we do. So doesn’t that mean the manufacturer must jump fewer hurdles, thereby spending less production money? Let’s hypothetically say it actually costs just $2 more to make a pair of blue jeans in this country than in Mexico. Then we must figure extra environmental and worker costs/benefits so the price doubles. Can we blame the manufacturer for taking his plant there?

Do the NAFTA and GATT have a contracted life or can we pull out of those agreements at any time? Can we get just a portion of those jobs back from other countries? Can we make it easier for the manufacturer to produce his product in this country without hurting the American worker or the environment?

We could write a whole newspaper about how the American farmer has been hurt by all this. He is paying more to produce his crops and getting fewer subsidies from government programs. The American farmer is fighting a battle for favor from consumers who can purchase products imported from other countries for two cents less. Often the consumer doesn’t care that it’s substandard, just so it’s cheaper, and America loses the sale.

Each generation wants its children to live better, but the generation of today is having a hard time finding jobs because those jobs and products met and passed on the borders erased by NAFTA and GATT. Where will we be when the next generation joins the workforce? How many manufacturing jobs can you remember that have been lost in eastern North Carolina in the past two years?

There are more questions than answers here. Former President Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and GATT into law and it was a mistake. He had a lot of help getting this legislation passed, so we can’t place all the blame on Clinton. But it sure feels like a good place to start.