Trade Pact Anniversary - for Better or Worse

EVERY living US president says the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is good for the United States. And construction worker Robert Cordova heartily agrees.

One year after NAFTA formally linked the lives and livelihoods of the people of Mexico, Canada, and the US, Mr. Cordova, who lives in El Paso, Texas, took home his first Christmas bonus in 17 years.

Mike Yeubanks sees NAFTA as an unwelcome Christmas Scrooge, however. Mr. Yeubanks will collect his last paycheck in April when he and 430 other workers at the Zenith Electronics plant in Springfield, Mo., lose their jobs. Production is moving to Mexico.

NAFTA unites three nations - and 365 million consumers - in a trade pact that phases out barriers to investment, increases the flow of goods and services, and protects intellectual property rights.

Trade in both directions already is up. US exports and imports grew twice as fast with Mexico last year as with the rest of the world. The US Commerce Department trumpets the creation of 130,000 new jobs through September 1994, thanks to the increase in exports to Mexico.

Yet economists warn that trouble could be brewing. The peso's 39-percent plunge two weeks ago (before rebounding modestly) is likely to swing trade sharply in Mexico's favor. More imports from Mexico could mean more lost US jobs.

A study by the Alliance for Responsible Trade in Washington concludes that NAFTA is a bust. And the Congressional Joint Economic Committee says Mexican imports cost the US 10,000 jobs, on balance, in 1994.

Dozens of interviews by Monitor correspondents with American, Canadian, and Mexican workers and business leaders indicate that the NAFTA jury is still out. Reliable statistics are thin. But for better or worse, people in all three nations are starting to feel the effects of free trade.

TODAY: NAFTA's US winners and losers

JAN. 5: Mexican companies stoically accept US competition

JAN. 6: Canadian furniture company back from bankruptcy

JAN. 9: Mexican border bullring: Some firms stumble, some thrive

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