PUBLIC CITIZEN SAYS NAFTA IS AS BAD AS FEARED FOR ECOLOGY
Byline: Jim Ostroff
WASHINGTON — Public Citizen, a consumer activist group that vigorously opposed enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement, asserted in a report released Tuesday that the pact has caused environmental damage along the U.S.-Mexico border and boosted the creation of low-wage maquiladoras in Mexico.
After two years, the report said, it has become clear that the Clinton administration’s promises that NAFTA would substantially improve environmental and working conditions in the Rio Grande region have proved false. It called for the pact’s immediate repeal.
Specifically, the report contended the administration was wrong when it insisted NAFTA’s enactment would provide strong incentives for maquiladoras to disperse throughout Mexico from the narrow band just south of the border where they have clustered since the Seventies. This clustering, in areas where there was little or no pollution control, has been blamed for serious environmental problems in Mexico and U.S. border states.
Pact supporters contended its environmental requirements would all but prohibit new firms from joining existing maquiladoras and NAFTA’s economic development incentives would create many jobs outside of this factory system.
The growth of maquiladoras took off in the Eighties since products made there, using U.S. components, enjoyed duty breaks when imported into the U.S. American apparel firms set up maquiladoras in Mexico, either on their own, or as joint ventures with Mexican firms, with spectacular results. Since January 1994, when NAFTA took effect, Mexico has grown from the eighth- or ninth-largest supplier of imported apparel to the U.S.’s third-largest supplier in September, the latest available figures.
The Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch project report, stated virtually all of Mexico’s maquiladoras still were in six Mexican states near the Rio Grande.
The report said, “instead of shrinking, two years after NAFTA there are now 20 percent more Mexican maquiladora employees than before NAFTA went into effect, from 546,588 in December 1993 to 689,420 in October 1995.” As these maquiladoras have grown, the group cited various examples of worsening air and water pollution and illnesses it claims stem from these conditions.
Responding to the report, Larry Martin, president, American Apparel Manufacturers Association, said, “We’ve heard from many of our members that they have set up [maquiladoras] in many parts of Mexico’s interior: in Yucatan, north of Mexico City and in Aguas Calientes, which is in the central part of the country.”
Martin said some AAMA member companies are choosing these sites “because there is a more stable work force and it is less costly to do business there.”
He added, “While it’s a little early to say whether NAFTA has been a big success or not, we know that apparel imports from Mexico have grown greatly, and our attitude always has been that it’s better to do this [apparel assembly] work in this hemisphere than in the Far East.”
Calvin Cohen, director of the Emergency Committee for American Trade, which led the U.S. firms supporting NAFTA, took issue with the Public Citizen report. “Those things forecast by us in the business community, such as the dispersement of maquiladoras, will occur, but it will take longer than originally expected, because of Mexico’s economic downturn,” Cohen said.
Administration trade officials could not be reached for comment.