NAFTA Rush to Judgment

AMERICANS should reserve judgment on a recent report regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and environmental problems along the US-Mexican border.

The report, issued by the consumer group Public Citizen, finds that two years into NAFTA implementation, employment at maquiladora border factories has increased 20 percent, from 545,588 in December 1993 to 689,420. It claims that NAFTA has increased problems with air and water pollution, hazardous-waste dumping, and diseases considered by doctors to be environmentally related.

NAFTA supporters maintain that the agreement will lead to more broadly based development in other regions of Mexico, thus taking pressure off the border area.

It's just too early to judge the effects of NAFTA in any sector: economic, labor, or environment. Such a broad-reaching accord has consequences and effects that will take years to work themselves out.

Public Citizen, which intensely opposed NAFTA ratification, complains that Mexico has fewer resources to spend on environmental cleanup because of the collapse of the peso. But Mexico's currency problems have nothing to do with NAFTA and everything to do with economic mismanagement by a corrupt ruling party. As NAFTA strengthens the Mexican economy over time, both Mexico's environment and democracy will benefit.

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