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 Congresswoman 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 ambassadorallegedly 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% 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.
There was another big casualty in this trade agreement. Mexico was made up of many small farms. With NAFTA farming in Mexico became a big business. Eventually the small farmers were decimated by new gigantic farms taking advantage of the trade agreement. The economic effects are still being felt by the Mexican population. It has probably fanned the flames of illegal immigration into the United States on our southern border.
Also, cheap Mexican labor was employed along the southern side of the border for production of goods to be quickly imported into the United States. These workers were exploited and abused without any attention being given to them. They worked hard but were greatly exploited for their toils.
Canada and Mexico profited from NAFTA nicely and to the detriment of United States manufacturing. It wasn’t until President Donald Trump came into office that discussion of ending NAFTA was paramount to our economy. Thus, the new trade agreement, United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement – USMCA was proposed by the Trump Administration as a cure for the ills of NAFTA. It was approved by all three nations but there was a stall by Congress. Finally, last week it was passed.
Thus, the effects of NAFTA will soon come to pass. We have learned a great lesson in this – hopefully. The saying, “The grass always seems to be greener on the other side” seems to apply here. Not all trade agreements are good. We must analyze each one of them and determine the true outcome if it is to exist. To our unions we say, “Don’t let the politicians fool you”.
May we never make such a foolish mistake again.
Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Ms. DeBow is the Co-Founder, Executive Vice President of the Chamber.