Albion Monitor /News

NAFTA Low Profile in Presidential Race

by Diego Cevallos

Both Clinton and Dole support NAFTA but failed to produce any new specific strategies

(IPS) MEXICO -- Scanty references to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- or any expansion of the treaty -- during the U.S. presidential campaign showed the lack of interest in Latin America by the candidates and their parties, say Mexican political observers.

While both President Bill Clinton and the Republican Bob Dole supported NAFTA -- which groups Canada, the United States and Mexico into a trade bloc -- but they failed to produce any new specific strategies on the subject, the observers said. Nor do they give any indication they would continue the project of opening up the bloc to other countries in the region.

Candidates seem only concerned with their domestic image, determined by advisors and publicity firms

The lack of interest in NAFTA contrasted with the importance given it in previous elections, when candidates discussed and speculated about the possible impact on employment and competition for U.S. products.

"NAFTA is not a concern for the United States, because it has failed to reach -- as was intended -- a greater influence in the situation of workers and businesses," said Jorge Chabat, an expert on international studies at the Center for Economic Research and Education of Mexico (CIDE).

During his term as president, George Bush promoted the creation of a common market that extended from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, which according to plan, would be in place by the year 2005. Besides NAFTA it would encompass the nations of MERCOSUR, the trade agreement between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Although the plans apparently have not changed, publicly the United States seems much less interested in them, said Chabat.

Clinton, who has not visited Latin America since becoming president, did not fulfill his promise to advance the process of integration begun by his predecessor. He was unable to bring Chile into NAFTA in the first semester of 1996.

Bush spoke about free trade at a continental level in order to appease Latin American governments, but the reality is that the United States cared little about what happened south of the Rio Bravo, with the exception of Mexico, which represented nine percent of trade.

A study conducted by CIDE indicated that Latin America -- excluding Mexico -- represented less than 8 percent of foreign trade. In contrast, the United States is one of Latin America's principal investors and trading partners.

The south is expecting decisions, but the candidates seem only concerned with their domestic image, determined by advisors and publicity firms, said Emilio Zebadua, a researcher at the Colegio de Mexico.

At the beginning of the presidential campaign, Mexico was mentioned several times by politicians

The only electoral issues concerning Latin America are those related to illegal immigration, relations with Cuba -- through the approval of the Helms-Burton law -- and the threat of competition from Mexico regarding products such as tomatoes and cement, he said.

These are the issues that generate votes, Zebadua noted.

U.S. ambassador to Mexico, James Jones, acknowledged that the electoral process in his count "has had a negative impact on the implementation of NAFTA."

After the elections on November 5, everything will return to normal, he said.

At the beginning of the presidential campaign, Mexico was mentioned several times by politicians as one of the main issues, generating formal protests from the government of President Ernesto Zedillo.

Based on NAFTA's principles, Clinton approved a $20 billion loan to help Mexico recover from the crisis which erupted at the end of 1994. That gesture provoked the local conservative opposition, who by then believed that Mexico was too fragile economically, politically unstable, and corrupt in all spheres.

As the campaign advanced, the issue faded to the background due to lack of interest on the part of the electorate, advanced payments on the loans, and the economic recovery achieved by the Zedillo government.

Mexico's anti-narcotics campaign also played a role and, according to Washington, its NAFTA partner conducted the most drug raids in the world for 1995.

NAFTA has been beneficial to its members with increased trade, currently surpassing 10 percent annually, a growth which, for now, seemed to have no possibilities of extending to other countries in Latin America, said Chabat.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor November 1, 1996 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page