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♦ Trade: Mexico is going to be
the most important neighbor in
U.S. history. With this pact, its
path on the road to democracy
and openness will be assured.
By Henry A. Kissinger
Former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger writes
frequently for The Times.
Before the end of summer, President Bill Clinton will ask Congress to approve the North American Free Trade Agreement, linking the United States with Canada and Mexico in a free-trade area comprising a population of 370 million and a gross national product of $6 trillion. It will represent the most creative step toward a new world order taken by any group of countries since the end of the Cold War, and the first step toward the even larger vision of a free-trade zone for the entire Western Hemisphere.
And yet, recent polls show that barely half the American people have even heard of it.
This offers the President a real chance for leadership in educating the public to the opportunity before them. Since the end of the Cold War, fear of communism can no longer serve as the cement of international order. With the collapse of the ideological challenge, traditional patterns of nationalism have gained ground nearly everywhere. The post-Cold War world has witnessed growing rivalries reminiscent of the tensions preceding World War I.
In this light, developments in the Western Hemisphere are crucial to global order. Here, a group of democratic nations has pledged itself to the Enterprise for the Americas initiative based on popular governments and market economies. The sole dictatorship remaining in the Western Hemisphere is Cuba; state-run enterprises are being privatized; nationalistic, protectionist methods of economic management are replaced by export-oriented economies hospitable to foreign investment and supportive of open trading systems. The revolution sweeping the Western Hemisphere points to an international order based on cooperation.
It is this revolution that is at stake in the ratification of NAFTA. What Congress will have before it is not a conventional trade agreement but the architecture of a new international system.
Strong presidential leadership in the ratification battle is urgently required. As the only nationally elected U.S. leader, Clinton is in the best position to put NAFTA into a broad strategic framework and explain why it serves the national interest. He must not permit the treaty’s opponents to define NAFTA as a problem of economic arithmetic.
In this task, the President is entitled to bipartisan support. NAFTA’s key provisions were concluded during the Bush Administration; its supplementary agreements are being negotiated in the Clinton Administration. But NAFTA is so vital to prospects for global progress that it merits a demonstration of nonpartisan
America has never had a neighbor of the importance Mexico will acquire in the next century — with or without NAFTA. By then it will be a country with a population of more than 100 million and equal to the Asian “little tigers” such as Korea. Our de facto open borders make friendly relations a vital national interest. Twenty-million Mexican residents in the United States link the interests of the two nations on the human level. The healthier Mexico’s economy, the lower the illegal immigration and the greater U.S. exports will be to an economy whose propensity to import from us is the highest in the world.
Even on strictly economic grounds, NAFTA is to our long-range advantage.
When all the major Latin American
countries have raised their sights to a
new partnership based on values the
U.S. has espoused for decades, a retreat
from it by America would be a
Most studies suggest the nation would gain more jobs than it would lose — though the problem is that those who lose jobs are not usually the ones who benefit from gains in employment.
Nonetheless, let us not delude ourselves: The movement of U.S. industry to Mexico, cited by many NAFTA critics, has occurred despite current tariff barriers, which are already low. What the critics are seeking is not just a defeat of NAFTA, but an increase in tariffs against Mexico. Such a policy would put an end to any hope of a new Western Hemisphere relationship and encourage the rise of nationalism.
For Mexico has been in the vanguard of the revolution sweeping the Western Hemisphere. Not so long ago. its foreign policy was defined by anti-US. rhetoric and its economic policy by statist left-wing attitudes. Import substitution, the euphemism for protectionism, was the dominant trend and anti-gringo suspicion a key feature of the internal Mexican debate.
Starting with the presidency of Miguel de la Madrid in 1982, Mexico began to reverse these patterns. Under President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the process assumed tidal proportions. Salinas opened Mexico to foreign investment, lowered tariffs, insisted on free competition, quelled corruption and brought into office many young, highly trained technocrats.
In the interval between Salinas’ election and his oath of office, I asked the newly elected president whether he could ever visualize a free-trade system in the Western Hemisphere. He replied that, given Mexican political history, this was a distant dream; the best he could accomplish would be sector-by-sector negotiation which, after a substantial interval, might be tied together into a comprehensive understanding. A year later, Salinas apparently decided that the cost of half-way measures was not far lower than the price of doing the right thing and opted to go all-out for what is now called NAFTA.
Please see TRADE, M6
Continued from M2
Salinas has overcome considerable domestic Mexican reservations. He has gone to great lengths lo respond to U.S. concerns — even negotiating side agreements on the environment and labor that his left-wing opponents describe as interference in Mexico’s domestic legislation.
Nonetheless, the ancient themes of Mexican political discourse are still just below the surface. They remain the staple of Salinas’ left-wing opposition. NAFTA’s defeat in Congress would be a stinging rebuff to the most market-oriented, democratic administration Mexico has ever had and would humiliate Salinas—a particular problem as Mexico gears up for next year’s presidential election. It would be a disaster if U.S. actions encouraged the re-emergence of nationalistic candidates and reversed the trend toward cooperation between two neighbors.
History will surely record the Enterprise Initiative for the Americas as one of the most important U.S. initiatives since the Marshall Plan. The trade agreement with Mexico is the vital first step for a new kind of community of nations, built on a common base of democratic values, drawn together by the free exchange of goods, services and capital, dedicated to human rights and committed to the preservation of their common environment. It is a creative response to the coincidental decision by the major nations of Latin America during the past decade to move decisively down the road of economic opening and political reform; it looks far beyond the Organization of American States and its outmoded focus on national security.
At a moment when all the major Latin American countries have raised their sights to a new partnership based on values the United States has espoused for decades, a retreat from it by America would be a shattering blow to this vision for a new and better world.
A regional Western Hemisphere organization dedicated to democracy and free trade would be a first step toward the new world order so frequently cited but so rarely implemented. It would permit the countries to respond to any of the various ways in which the international order may evolve. Almost every country pays lip service to a global free-trading system. It would be shortsighted, however, to ignore the regional groupings emerging in both Europe and Asia as possible alternatives.
A Western Hemisphere-wide free-trade system — with NAFTA as the first step—would give the Americas a commanding role no matter what happens. If principles of the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade prevail, it will become a major participant in global economic growth; if regional groupings dominate, the Western Hemisphere with its vast market will more than hold its own.
Clinton has preferred not to deflect Congress from focusing on his economic package. But the stakes are too high to wait. He must take the lead in defining the issues — though he should not do this alone. Instead, he should enlist former presidents, secretaries of state and other leaders in one of the broad-based coalitions by which previous new departures in foreign policy — like the Marshall Plan—were put before the public.
If that happens, Clinton’s will be perceived as a seminal presidency whatever else transpires while he is in office.
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