NAFTA Is a Feather in US's Cap, Brown Says

THE North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is proving to be an economic boon and a creator of jobs, Ron Brown, United States Secretary of Commerce, said Friday.

Figures for the first nine months of this year and of the pact ``totally take the wind out of the sails of those who were making these predictions about the outflow of jobs and the damage to the United States' economy,'' Secretary Brown said.

Exports to Canada and Mexico account for almost half of overall US export growth, Commerce figures show. While US exports worldwide are up 7 percent for the first nine months, exports to Canada and Mexico are up 14 percent.

US exports to Mexico are at record levels and were up 22 percent for the nine-month period. Imports were up 23 percent. Trade with Canada, the US's largest trading partner, also grew after NAFTA's Jan. 1 implementation, with US exports to Canada up 11 percent and imports from Canada up 13 percent.

But NAFTA opponents suggest that the rosy outlook doesn't take into account that the US trade surplus with Mexico is dwindling. At a news conference Nov. 17, critics said the declining trade surplus is a sign of NAFTA's problems: Lower Mexican wages encourage Americans to buy Mexican goods that are cheaper to manufacture and keep Mexicans from buying more high-priced US goods.

Brown rejected the contention that a declining trade surplus with Mexico is proof that NAFTA is hurting the US economy. Opponents, he says, ``don't seem to understand that economic growth in Mexico is good for America. The more the Mexican economy is growing, the more American goods, products, and services Mexicans want to buy.''

An `A' is worth $800 more than a `B'

AN ``A'' in high school ought to be worth $800 a year more than a ``B'' after you graduate.

That's one of the findings of a national study on wages of high school graduates who don't go to college. The ongoing study by the University of Pennsylvania's National Center on Educational Quality of the Workforce tracks students from their sophomore year to their third year of work after graduation.

Researchers have found a string of factors that can help or hurt earning power:

* Graduating on time means an extra $2,000 in annual income, on average, than if you don't graduate with your class.

* A part-time job during high school means an additional $1,300 more pay after graduation than those without previous work experience.

* If your school posts local job listings, chances are you'll earn $1,000 more a year than a student from a school with no listings.

``A `B' student does better in the labor market than a `D' student,'' says David Crawford, adjunct economics professor at the university, and co-author with professors Amy Johnson and Anita Summers.

The study clearly shows that ``students having experience in the working world makes the transition from school to the labor market more profitable,'' he says.

Will US sneakers rebound in Europe?

WITH the European economies on the rebound, United States athletic shoe manufacturers are hoping to get a bigger foot in the market door.

The potential for growth is there. Less than four of every 10 sports shoes sold in Western Europe are American-made. And, on the whole, Europeans aren't as eager as US consumers to pamper their ``dogs'' with Nike Air Jordans, and the like. In 1993, the average Western European only bought 0.63 pairs of athletic shoes, compared with 1.6 new pairs purchased by US shoppers. However, the odds of finding more well-shod shoppers are higher in Britain and France than elsewhere in Europe, according to a study by the Athletic Footwear Association (AFA), an industry trade group based in North Palm Beach, Fla.

Athletic footwear experienced explosive growth in Europe during the late 1980s and early '90s,'' says Gregg Hartley, executive director of AFA. ``But severe recessions brought it to an abrupt halt.'' Sales last year fell nearly 3 percent in Europe.

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