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Goodbye NAFTA and good riddance

Beyond the Rhetoric

Harry C. Alford & Kay Debow | 12/19/2019, 11:05 a.m.

The National Black Chamber of Commerce was just getting organized when the policy issue of NAFTA came to the forefront. The North American Free Trade Agreement was high on President Clinton’s priority list. Unions fought against it and the votes to get it approved through Congress were questionable. As the debates went on it appeared that President Clinton needed a few more votes to get this initiative approved.

The Congressional Black Caucus was nearly unanimous for the agreement. However, there was one big hold out. Maxine Waters would not move towards a yes vote. She and the President had a closed meeting, and, in the end, she voted “yes”. Also, her husband, Sid Williams, a native of Bahamas, became the new Ambassador to the Bahamas. Yes, she sold her vote for personal gain.

To the Bahamian people and the rest of the Caribbean this was big stuff It put President Clinton in good light. Harry remembers going to a reception for the National Newspaper Publishers Association hosted by Rep. Waters and the ambassador. It was truly elegant with a great dinner alongside the giant swimming pool and the Caribbean breeze. The Congresswoman remained a representative of Los Angeles while her new residence occupied all her free time.

Time went on and a new President, George W. Bush, arrived and replaced all ambassadors including Ambassador Williams The new ambassador was from Texas and immediately hired one of our Bahamian chamber members to make renovations to the Ambassador’s residence. The contractor whom we all referred to as Penn told me that the incoming ambassador wanted the bathroom to the master bedroom totally retrofitted and all the other toilets to be replaced. Penn asked him why he was replacing the toilets and the master bath as they were all in good order. The new ambassador allegedly replied, “I am not going to sit on any toilet or get into any bathtub that held Maxine Waters”. Oh well, back to NAFTA.

NAFTA was simple and a blessing to our manufacturers. They could move their plants to Mexico; hire cheap Mexican labor and send the products back into the United States duty free. The auto industry along with textiles, computers and electrical appliances were the most common opportunities. According to The Balance magazine, between 1994 and 2010, the U.S. trade deficits with Mexico reached a total of $97.2 billion. Nearly 700,000 U.S. jobs left the United States and went to Mexico. 80 percent of the losses were in manufacturing.

At home, our unions became neutralized by the fact that if they would strike during a wage negotiation the company would simply close and move to Mexico. Thus, wages lagged during this time period.

Our Teamsters became under attack also Truckers from Mexico were now allowed into the United States and delivered products that were now being made in their country. By 2008, Congress terminated this program, but the damage was already done. Currently, Mexican trucks cannot go further than 20 miles into the United States. Our teamsters still cannot adequately compete within that 20-mile limit.