Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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NAFTA still a hard sell

The debate over the seven-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement is far from closed. The pact, of necessity, must be subject to constant reassessment to deal with issues negotiators failed to foresee, as last Sunday's Blade analysis of NAFTA made clear.

These must include potential claims on Great Lakes water, which we can't allow to be diverted anywhere by anyone, even if we must restrict our own use of it. But there are other issues as well, as described in Blade senior writer Homer Brickey's special report.

Main among them is leveling the playing field, and insisting that signatory governments require parity in pay and benefits for both agricultural and industrial workers, not cut deals that might reduce the American worker to the impoverished status of many hardworking people south of the border. There must also be a globalization of safety, environmental, sanitary, and child-labor regulations as well as truck-driver proficiency standards.

These are points that U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur has made since the idea of reducing trade barriers was introduced. And regrettably they are standards expedience continues to trump.

Countries that trade with each other rarely wage war. We know that peaceful conditions are better for people than the stresses of strife. And we know that in the long run trade restrictions drive up prices. To some extent NAFTA makes sense.

But we also know that today's press for global markets rests largely on the idea that people's time and energies can be rented more cheaply in some countries than in others. That's the rub for national leaders who want to see themselves nobly, not merely as cutters of deals that line the pockets of themselves and their pals. The latter is what worries working Americans.

History tells us that the union of states we now enjoy would not have been possible early on had the honorable people held sway and insisted that the South end slavery. It never happened because without slavery there would have been no union. The economics of agriculture would have prevented it.

Today we know more about human motivations and human growth and development, hopefully enough to avoid getting caught again in so base a trap. And we know that generations pay when one group of people oppresses another, physically, psychologically, or financially.

Yet we are also a nation whose businessmen, faced with smoking curbs at home, promote harder than ever abroad; faced with bans of DDT and other noxious pesticides at home, sell them overseas, and faced with costs for health and safety regulations for workplaces, try to set up shop where average people are readily sacrificed by their economic and political bosses to profit margins.

Years ago beat poet Allan Ginsburg would describe himself as the face at the bottom of the toilet, looking up. It is a position from which those at the bottom anywhere can see things with unusual clarity. And it is a positioning that explains, in part, the ruling class's inability to sell NAFTA to the masses. They smell a rat. They hear doublespeak in statistics about job gains or losses. They feel imperiled. They can't trust people who see them as stupid and uneducated.

For NAFTA to grow up and spread, the people's issues must be addressed first. No one sees that happening.

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