COUNTYWIDE FOCUS : County Issue: Free Trade Agreement

A federal judge has delayed consideration of the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement, which would link the United States, Mexico and Canada in a barrier-free

trading zone. While the prospect on an unfettered market pleases many, critics say this country would lose jobs to low-wage Mexico. Should Congress approve NAFTA?

* Jana Goldsworthy: Executive director, California Central Coast World Trade Center, Oxnard Sixty percent of California's real economic growth came through exports last year. NAFTA would reduce tariff barriers. Also, it encourages investment. It would be naive to say there will not be some jobs lost. Ithink if we look at the long-term results of NAFTA it will be very positive for the California economy. One example I cite is the maquiladora program, where U.S. companies assemble products in Mexico. The components of those products go over the border duty-free, and the assembled pieces come back into the U.S duty-free. The initial objections were the same. Initially, there were some jobs lost over the border, particularly low-wage jobs in labor-intensive companies. But long-term, U.S. exports to Mexico increased dramatically because of all these components that were going into Mexico. Those export sales were creating U.S. jobs. Every $1 billion in exports creates as many as 25,000 U.S. jobs. I see that as a very positive impact of the maquiladora program, and something I think we will also see as a result of NAFTA. NAFTA will also be very positive for the Mexican economy. The Mexicans are large consumers of U.S products. As their economy improves, their disposable income goes up, so their purchasing power for consumer goods increases.

* Paul Leavens: Partner, Leavens Ranches, Ventura I would have to speak only as it involves our business and the crops we grow, which are lemons, oranges and avocados. The most important one to me is the avocados, because Mexico has the potential to grow 2billion pounds, and we're having the largest crop in our history with 600 million pounds nationwide. We are getting, after picking and hauling, about 2 cents for the average-size Hass avocado. It's a disaster for the growers in this country already with disastrously low prices. If we allow Mexican avocados into this country, many of them are contaminated with the seed weevil, which could spread throughout our avocado industry and make things even worse than they are today. I would support strong phyto-sanitary regulations, where anything coming into this country has to be clean and cannot be infested with these insects. As far as lemons and oranges are concerned, I don't feel they would be a threat to us. We feel that we could export to Mexico to our advantage because of the quality of our fruit. It is a much greater threat to Florida than it is to California, because their fruit is much more similar to Mexican fruit in poor exterior quality. Ours has extremely fine-textured quality and would find a market anywhere.

* Luis Humberto Ramirez: Mexican consul, Oxnard NAFTA will expand trade opportunities between the United States and Mexico and open Mexico's growing market to U.S. goods and services. A modernized and prosperous Mexico will want to trade more with the United States and purchase United States products. Expanding exports has been a key engine for economic growth and job creation for both countries. We think that low wages in Mexico are not enough reason for moving American enterprises to Mexico because if it were true, this phenomena would have happened in the past. I think NAFTA is very important for the United States because it helps the United States meet the challenge of trade competition with Japan and Europe. In relation to the environment, someone has said that the color of NAFTA is green because all three countries are very worried about environmental protection. NAFTA will help Mexico protect its environment and create American jobs in the process, because Mexican enterprises are going to need environmental services and equipment from North America. Mexico thinks that poverty is the worst enemy of the environment. Mexico has rules and has the commitment to achieve a cleaner environment. I'm convinced that both countries will be winners with NAFTA. They will enjoy increased economic growth and jobs creation.

* Rex Laird: Executive director, Ventura County Farm Bureau I don't know because I don't know what the side agreements are. I don't know what it's going to take to set aside or overturn the lawsuit that was filed by the environmental community, which I find somewhat curious because it seems to me that there would be greater leverage to ensure environmental responsibility on the part of Mexico in a negotiated process rather than without NAFTA. If the judge's action subsequently leads to a failure of the process, the question I have is, what bargaining position do we have then to ensure the agenda of the environmental community is realized?

This has probably been one of the most talked-about, least-understood international trade processes that I've been exposed to in the 13 years I've been in this position. Most people are really not clear on what's happening. You have to be really focused on this one single issue to be really up on it.

As far as agriculture's concerned, I have gotten a whole range of analyses as to whether it will be beneficial, do absolutely nothing, or be detrimental to farmers. I don't sense that there is consensus out there one way or the other. The state organization of the Farm Bureau is generally supportive of NAFTA. As it relates specifically to Ventura County, it's getting mixed reviews.

* Barry Hall: Chairman and CEO, California A mplifier Inc., Camarillo Yes, clearly they should. The notion that we are going to lose low-paying jobs may be true, but it flies in the face of the announced goal of the current Administration in Washington, D.C. that we want high-paying manufacturing jobs in this country. We have to export products that have technological value added and not just assembly value added. We manufacture microwave electronics. Our major competitors are Asian companies. We certainly want to be able to sell freely throughout North America and throughout the Western Hemisphere. If we have a trading advantage with those countries, that will mean increased jobs for my company. We are not going to be moving any plants down to Mexico to sell into that market no matter what NAFTA does. There's no advantage to us as long as we have NAFTA. Our employees here do an excellent job. We have automated the factory to the point where the differential in the cost of labor can easily be mitigated by the increased productivity of the American worker. Latin America is a very large emerging market. You might not be able to sell shoes down there or toys, but you can certainly sell technological items like computer hardware, software and telecommunications equipment. That's the type of products that the Administration wants to base our economic future on.

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