June 1, 1993, Page 15
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH COMMENTARY Side Agreements Won't Fix NAFTA's Flaws By Don Fitz fi ep. Richard Gephardt has a crucial role in the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement. As majority leader, Gephardt has considerable leverage in getting it through Congress or getting it stopped. But predicting what he will do is about as easy as grabbing a frog in a swamp. When George Bush was requesting fast-track authorization in 1991, Gephardt said, "No way." But at the last minute he supported fast track and brought enough votes to pass it Bush signed NAFTA, as the agreement is known, on Sept. 6, 1992. At that time, Gephardt was being challenged for having supported the pro-NAFTA fast-track legislation. On Sept. 9, Gephardt wrote: "Today, I call upon the Bush ad-ministraton to cease further efforts to win Congressional approval of the current North American Free Trade Agreement, and to renegotiate it, or leave it for the next administration to be written right." Since early 1993, Gephardt has been calling for side agreements or supplemental agreements that would require strict enforcement of labor and environmental laws in Mexico. The press often counters his position to that of Sen. John Danforth, who would like to approve NAFTA without side agreements. In a March 1993 trip to Mexico, Gephardt observed appalling factory conditions. The March 8 Post-Dispatch quoted him: "If these problems are not solved in further negotiations, I don't think NAFTA can be approved. It shouldn't be approved." Recently, comments Gephardt made during his March trip to Mexico surfaced. They had been reported in the prestigious Mexico City newspaper, Excelsior, on March 24. According to Excelsior, both Gephardt and Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari "agreed that the trade agreement has already been negotiated and will not be reopened Gephardt indicated that, with parallel agreements, which assure adequate competion of environmental and labor legislation in the region ... 'I support the Free Trade Agreement and I will work in the next months for passage by the American Congress this year.' " The majority leader has expressed quite a variety of positions helping get Bush's fast track passed; demanding rejection of NAFTA when he was running for re-election; saying it needed tough side agreements to get through Congress; and, promising that he supports it and wants it passed in 1993. One of the most bothersome aspects of the current debate is an attempt by the Clinton administration to define the anti- I NAFTA position for us. If you are against NAFTA, then you are supposed to support side agreements. Thus, the big hoopla in May when seven environmental groups gave a tentative nod to NAFTA. Of course, most of these seven are Washington lobbying groups that have had similar positions all along. More important, the large number of environmental groups that actually have grassroots memberships have consistently rejected NAFTA: Greenpeace, Public Citizen, National Toxics Campaign, Friends of the Earth, Rainforest Action, Environmental Action, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club, Earth Island and The Greens. Many have explained for some time that side agreements are no more than a fig leaf to cover a trade agreement that cannot be remedied. First, most environmentalists feel that NAFTA is designed to help industry move to where it is easiest to release toxic poisons. Side agreements may or may not slow this, but they would not change the direction of an economy that threatens the existence of life on this planet Second, labor has no interest in supporting side agreements it is clear that a major purpose behind NAFTA is to make it easier for businesses to move where labor is cheapest. Side agreements may or may not slow this, but they would not reverse the direction of a trade agreement designed to bring wages down. Third, side agreements would not do what the administration says they would (protect labor and the environment). The Clinton administration is proposing commissions without authority to issue subpoenas or impose sanctions. Stripped of even the weakest enforcement power, the investigatory commissions would not even be able to make people who are being investigated show up. Fourth, side agreements are limited to inadequate attempts to cope with labor and environmen tal issues. They do not even pretend to deal with agricultural issues, pesticide standards, human-rights violations, intellectual property and rights of indigenous peoples. Fifth, side agreements would not dismantle the single worst feature of NAFTA: its dispute-resolution panels. These panel members would not be elected. They would not represent labor, environmental, agricultural or human-rights groups. They would not be required to listen to scientific testimony before rendering decisions that would affect the health and welfare of hundreds of millions of people. Is Gephardt posturing as a critic of NAFTA to juggle for the best position possible to slide it through Congress? NAFTA goes in the wrong direction. It cannot be patched up. Environmentalists, trade unionists, farmers, students, and human-rights activists are saying they do not want NAFTA or side agreements. Don Fitz edits the newsletter for the Gateway Green Alliance in St. Louis.