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Buchanan's right about NAFTA deal

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The only candidate among the horde of Republican White House seekers to speak out against the North American Free Trade Agreement is Pat Buchanan, who is mostly viewed as a lightweight in a heavyweight field that includes Sen. Bob Dole and his arch-conservative enemy, Phil Gramm.

Buchanan -- certainly a blowhard and sometimes a peddler of simplistic solutions for complex public policy dilemmas -- has been outspoken in his attacks against NAFTA. This puts him at odds with the rest of the party and with President Clinton, who embraced NAFTA against the wishes of many in his own party.

The Republicans and Democrats whole-heartedly wish NAFTA would go away as an issue because as time moves on the accord is becoming increasingly difficult to defend. The deal, which held so much promise to increase business profits by exporting high-cost U.S. jobs to Mexico while at the same time increasing U.S. imports south, is not working out.

Part of the problem is Mexico, a struggling country where the gap between the haves and have-nots has become as deep and wide as the Atlantic Ocean. Mexican peasants, who were formerly able to make a difficult living working their land, are finding it economically impossible now. The displaced are not going away quietly. Some have taken up arms and security forces have responded harshly. Only rRecently, two-dozen farmers and family members were killed in a government ambush.

The news didn't make much of a splash in the United States, but it should have, because our economic involvement in Mexico has increased dramatically since NAFTA.

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Mexico's economic crisis forced the United States into a billion-dollar bailout of their peso. The bailout was defended as a necessary step in securing Mexico's long-term future as a major trading party. Critics charge that the bailout was a U.S. taxpayer-funded giveaway and a nice subsidy for U.S. firms who need an economically and politically stable Mexico.

Buchanan and others think that the United States has entered into an unwise partnership.

``NAFTA has turned out to be the Bay of Pigs of the Clinton administration ofand the Republicans who supported it,'' Buchanan said recently. ``This is a multibillion-dollar disaster. And it's time that Bob Dole and Phil Gramm and Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton stood up and said NAFTA was a disaster. It cost us jobs, it cost us a bailout we can't afford, and we're going to take a look and correct the mistake we made.''

Mexico's economic and social problems are closely linked to their government's failure to provide farmers and their families with adequate income. The displaced are forced into cities, which are ill-equipped to handle the influx.

We have a similar problem, although it as yet pales in comparison to Mexico's economic collapse. Our country -- built through the labor of farmers and blue-collar workers -- has become a service-orientated society. There is nothing wrong in this, except we have allowed our most basic industries to decay from neglect.

Farmers are being forced to produce crops and livestock at prices that provide scant profit. They are told to become more efficient, but financial returns have been so miserly that they can ill-afford to spend money on new technologies and facilities. Workers, too, are seeing their living standards eroded by higher costs and depressed wages as they find themselves competing with illpoorly paid and illpoorly fed Third World nations.

A country that doesn't adequately reward hard work will soon be populated by people who aren't willing to work hard.

The United States economy has lost more than 1 million jobs during the past two years and wages have sagged. Agriculture, too, has lost jobs and farmers' incomes have stagnated while expenses have gone the other way. Meanwhile, American corporate profits have increased 12 percent in two years. There's nothing wrong with making money, but the gains made haven't been adequately shared.

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That's led to a greater gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States. It isn't nearly as wide as it is in Mexico, but it is cause for concern. We can best address our economic concerns by ensuring that farmers and others who produce renewable goods are rewarded adequately for their efforts.

If we continue to fail to properly reward our blue-collar workers, we will become more like Mexico than we would like to admit.

Mychal Wilmes is an Agri News staff writer.@et

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