House must approve NAFTA
On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on whether to approve the North American Free Trade Agreement, commonly known as NAFTA. The economic impact of the treaty has been widely debated in the popular media.
While the opponents of NAFTA have sought to scare the American people with the most dire predictions of doom and gloom if NAFTA passes, it should be clear to any rational individual with even the most rudimentary knowledge of economics that NAFTA means more jobs, higher incomes and lower prices for American workers and consumers.
Far less attention, however, has been given to an equally important aspect of the NAFTA debate. What would approval or rejection of NAFTA say about the United States as a nation at this point in history?
As Vice President Al Gore mentioned in his verbal mud wrestling match with Ross Perot, NAFTA is one of those unique opportunities that only comes along once in a generation. The decision we make on NAFTA has broad implications on who we are as Americans and the future direction of our country.
NAFTA supporters see the United States as a strong and prosperous nation able to, as President Bill Clinton often says, "compete and win" in the global marketplace. They recognize that as the world changes, America must change along with it.
America's prosperity now depends on the free flow of goods and services across international borders. Growing markets in Mexico and the rest of Latin America represent tremendous opportunities for U.S. businesses and workers.
Many Latin American countries, such as Chile, are eagerly waiting to join NAFTA down the road if it is approved by Congress. Hopefully, NAFTA will serve as the first step towards a hemisphere-wide free trade zone stretching from the northernmost tip of Canada to the southernmost point of Tierra del Fuego. Such a pact would link people of many different cultures and two different continents in one free market.
After preaching the virtues of free trade and free markets for the past 50 years, Americans should be ecstatic that our ideals are now sweeping the world. NAFTA should be welcomed by Americans across the political spectrum because it appeals to the most basic values that we share as citizens of this country
If NAFTA were to be defeated, however, we rightly would be seen as monumental hypocrites by the rest of the world. It would be clear that we have just been mouthing shallow rhetoric for the past half-century and do not now have the courage of our convictions.
The pro-NAFTA coalition includes the most appealing factions of both political parties. Ronald Reagan Republicans have joined together with internationalist Democrats in this historic fight.
While these groups may disagree on many issues, they share an understanding that America's future does not lie in retreating from the world stage.
The anti-NAFTA coalition, however, includes the most repugnant elements in American politics today. Protectionists on the left, trying to preserve the power of America's antiquated labor unions, have joined with protectionists on the right, who are hostile to Mexico because it is populated by Hispanics, and a demagogic billionaire from Texas to oppose NAFTA. Together they are appealing to the worst fears and prejudices of the American people.
Even though American workers are the most productive in the world, those opposed to NAFTA argue that our workers cannot compete with Mexican workers on a level playing field. Though virtually no economic analysis provides support for their conclusion, NAFTA opponents continue to cynically manipulate Americans' economic insecurity for their own political advantage. The success of the anti-NAFTA scare tactics only shows the abundance of pessimism evident in our nation today.
Whatever the vote in the House of Representatives, Wednesday will be a watershed in our nation's history. If NAFTA is approved, Wednesday will mark the entrance of a bold and confident America into a new era of global economic competition. If NAFTA is defeated, however, Wednesday will mark the beginning of our cowardly retreat into "Fortress America."
One need only look at the events of this century to figure out which course America should take. In the early 1930's, we sought to isolate ourselves from world affairs and economic competition. The result of our efforts was the Great Depression and the rise of Fascism across the globe.
We cannot afford to make the same mistake again. NAFTA must be approved.