Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A New Look at NAFTA

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting Mexico this week and President Barack Obama is soon to follow. Stories have been filling the press and airwaves about the violence on the U.S.-Mexican border. The administration has announced a stepped up campaign with Mexico to stem the violence in Juarez and Tijuana. (See New York Times article.) But there are other issues between the two countries just as demanding of attention. While the flow of immigrants has declined a bit, they still are comin and in circumstance more difficult and dangerous. And still there are 12 million undocumented in the U.S.

The New York Times reviewed the progress of the Free Trade Trade Agreement after fifteen years. Nafta was promoted in Mexico as a liberalization of the economy that would greatly increase exports and create a large middle class in the country. The first response, however, was the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. For the U.S. there was promise the new trade order would cut of the steady undocumented flow of people. But opening the border to the free flow of food forced small Mexican farmers to cease production and head north looking for jobs. Nafta disrupted Mexico's economic balance and didn't particularly help the U.S. bleeding manufacturing jobs. While new plants grew around Mexican cities, the new jobs were mostly low-paying assembly ones. Eventually many ofthese then moved to China. The auto industry flourished, but with auto parts manufactured elsewhere. With the recession, auto sales have dropped in the States and employment has followed in Mexico. Secretary Clinton and President Calderon will also be talking about Nafta.

Many immigrant advocacy groups are coming to wonder whether President Barack Obama has the backbone to lead a fierce fight for comprehensive immigration reform. As the New York Times indicated editorially, the president had back down from appointing attorney Thomas Saenz of Los Angeles as head of the Justice Departments civil rights division. As a lawyer for Mexican-American Legal Defence and Education Fund, he had effectively defended the rights of undocumented immigrants. Obama had offered to appoint him to the civil rights division and a fire storm from the nativists seemingly forced him to turn to some else. That candidate is worthy in his own right, but one wonders about the commitment of the president.

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