Gov. Jesse Ventura's account [op-ed, Dec. 1] of how NAFTA helped Minnesota's sport fishing industry fight Ontario's unfair restrictions on anglers illustrates how international trade rules helped one Minnesota industry. Unfortunately, NAFTA's negative consequences far outweigh its positive potential.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, our country's combined trade deficit with Mexico and Canada (how much less we export than import) more than tripled from $9 billion in 1993--before NAFTA was implemented--to $34.2 billion in 1998. This deficit has continued to explode to a combined total of $41.7 billion for the first three quarters of 1999. That's up 80 percent over the first three quarters of 1998.
If, as Ventura has been hearing, few Americans appreciate the benefits of trade agreements, it may be because few Americans have seen any. What we have seen are hundreds of thousands of jobs and employment opportunities lost on account of NAFTA.
One concrete measure of the jobs lost is the number of workers certified under the NAFTA transitional assistance program. This program identifies workers who have lost their jobs because of increased imports from Mexico or Canada or because of a shift of production to Mexico or Canada. In the first five years of NAFTA, out of 350,000 applicants, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 211,582 workers from 1,791 locations as having lost their jobs because of NAFTA. Of the dislocated workers, 1,234 were in Minnesota.
In addition, employers regularly use NAFTA to discourage union organizing and hold wages down. A 1996 Cornell University study found that, after NAFTA, employers more than doubled the rate at which they shut down production to avoid union organizing. When workers ask for a raise, they are frequently confronted with suggestions by their employers that work may be moved to Mexico if wages get too high here.
These are not idle threats. In September, for instance, workers at a Mankato, Minn., firm learned that their parent company plans to establish a new manufacturing facility in Mexico that will produce the items they now assemble. Eighty people--one-third of the firm's work force--could lose their jobs.
The plant manager told the Mankato Free Press, "Our competitors are very global in nature, and that's put pressure on us in the marketplace. . . . The labor costs are a significant factor. But for competitive reasons, I can't go into the details."
Ventura cites Minnesota exports and how many jobs these support in our state. He does not report how many job opportunities are lost because of imports. Like many advocates of NAFTA and other flawed trade deals, he tells only half the story. The $260 billion trade deficit tells the other half.
The giant and still growing trade deficit and our continuing loss of jobs and job opportunities are not an argument against participating in the global economy through trade. But they are good reasons to scrap NAFTA and negotiate fair trade agreements. These would ensure a reasonable balance between exports and imports and protect working people and their families at least as well as the interests of transnational corporations, banks and financiers.
The writer is president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO.