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NAFTA Proposal Is The Appropriate One

In her letter ["NAFTA Proposal Not the Appropriate One," Nov. 9] Susan Leite expressed her concern that under the North American Free Trade Agreement lax Mexican environmental laws would allow U.S. companies to pollute for profit. She did not acknowledge, however, that in preparation for NAFTA, Mexico now has as tough regulations as those in America. Furthermore, she did not acknowledge that NAFTA prohibits its signatories from relaxing environmental standards to attract new investment. In fact, the opposite of what Leite claims is true: Only if NAFTA is defeated would Mexico be free to attract U.S. industries by lowering environmental standards. The environmental provisions in NAFTA ought to be a model for their trade agreements.

Mexico's comprehensive 1988 environmental law covers air, water, and soil pollution, and is modeled on U.S. law. In some instances, Mexican standards are even stricter than those in the United States (for example, Mexico requires environmental impact statements for both new public and private investment).

Furthermore, in the last two years, Mexico has dramatically increased its enforcement activities, closing permanently or temporarily over 1,000 polluting firms, boosting its enforcement budget from $6.6 million to $77 million per year, and increasing the number of border area environmental inspectors from 50 to 200.

Finally, compliance costs play a minimal role in relocation decisions because they represent a small share of total costs for most industries. Indeed, 86 percent of U.S. industries have abatement costs of 2 percent or less. Moreover, most U.S. industries with high compliance costs already have low tariffs, so NAFTA would give them little incentive to relocate to Mexico.

It is true that Mexico's environmental record does not glow in the dark, but Mexico's environmental problems are caused mostly by limited financial resources to pay for a cleanup. If NAFTA dies, the Mexican economy will stall or even reverse, and even less money will be available for environmental cleanup. This is why, satisfied that Mexican laws will be enforced and U.S. regulations protected, six major environmental groups have endorsed NAFTA: the National Audubon Society, the National Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International.

In the human rights arena, to improve human rights performance the Mexican government established the National Commission on Human Rights in 1990 and initiated a 12-point plan to ensure that the Mexican police respect the human rights of detainees. The commission is investigating and correcting abuses, resolving controversial cases, reducing official impunity for abuse of power, and earning considerable foreign and domestic respect for doing so.

In summary, if NAFTA is defeated on Nov. 17, Susan Leite's greatest fears, as expressed in her letter, will come true because Mexico will go back to the old politics she so much fears. If NAFTA fails, there will be a setback for democracy, human rights, trade, United States-Mexico relations, and the environment.

Roberto Ordorica '94