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Free Trade?

NAFTA has hurt American Workers


When I was in Congress in 1993, President Bill Clinton put on a full court press to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA. Clinton put a lot of pressure on me, promising new jobs and a lower trade deficit, but I told him he wasn't getting my vote. Unfortunately, NAFTA passed over the objections of those of us who foresaw the massive job loss and ballooning trade deficits it would bring.

NAFTA was sold to America as a grandiose economic theory, and it didn't add up for me. History has now shown that I was right to be cautious and vote against NAFTA.

According to a recent study, there has been a net loss of more than 1 million jobs spread across every state in the nation during the first 12 years under NAFTA. Most of the lost jobs were high-wage manufacturing jobs, while the jobs that were created were lower-paying service-sector jobs with few, if any, benefits.

The same study found that NAFTA also contributed to the growing income gap between rich and poor in America, suppressed inflation-adjusted wages for production workers, weakened workers' bargaining powers and reduced their job benefits.

The problem with NAFTA was two-fold. First, it contained too many incentives designed to stimulate overseas investment, especially the movement of factories from the United States to Canada and Mexico. Second, there were no requirements to maintain labor or environmental standards, thus allowing industries to save big bucks at the expense of workers' wages, their benefits, their safety and the environment.

The economist Robert E. Scott concludes that NAFTA "tilted the economic playing field in favor of investors, and against workers and the environment, resulting in a hemispheric 'race to the bottom' in wages and environmental quality."

I'm proud that I respectfully disagreed with my president and voted "no" on NAFTA.

Free trade agreements can certainly stimulate the sales of American products overseas, but they must be well-thought-out, which NAFTA wasn't. NAFTA has increased imports to America far more than it has increased exports from America, resulting in the net job loss. Proponents of NAFTA cite the benefits of exports while failing to note the effect of increased imports. That's sort of like balancing a checkbook by counting only deposits and ignoring withdrawals. NAFTA has greatly increased our trade deficit with both Canada and Mexico—meaning that our withdrawals (jobs lost to imports and out-sourcing) have far outstripped our deposits (jobs gained by increased exports). The numbers are staggering. Since 1994, the United States' combined annual trade deficit with Canada and Mexico has ballooned from $9 billion to $127 billion in 2006.

I wasn't taken in by false promises the first time I was in Congress, and I won't be now. While I'm open to trade agreements that benefit America, I also know the best way to kick-start the economy is by investment in public works and critical infrastructure, not by agreements that encourage the loss of American jobs.

When I represent you in the United States Senate, we'll get this great nation back on the right track again.

Larry LaRocco is a candidate for U.S. Senate.