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NAFTA IN TROUBLE



Published: Tue, July 31, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: On Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick gave a stirring speech about the North American Free Trade Agreement, which seven years ago created the world's largest free-trade area. He noted that U.S. exports to the two NAFTA partners -- Mexico and Canada -- support 2.9 million American jobs, up from 2 million at the time of the agreement, and that such jobs pay wages that are 13 percent to 18 percent higher than the average in this country. Trade with Mexico alone has tripled. Mexico now buys more from the United States than from Britain, France, Germany and Italy combined.

Unfortunately, Mr. Zoellick's fine speech was not the only NAFTA news last Thursday, for the Senate was simultaneously debating the treaty. A large majority of senators -- Thursday's procedural vote went 70 to 30 -- appears to believe that NAFTA's provisions on trucking across the Mexican border need not be implemented promptly. As a result, Mexico's government is likely to retaliate with $1 billion or more in trade sanctions. The great forward momentum of the U.S.-Mexican economic relationship may start to unravel.

Protectionists: Under NAFTA, Mexican trucks in the United States must abide by U.S. regulations: If they are too dangerous or dirty, they can be pulled off the road. But NAFTA's opponents want to keep Mexican trucks out -- period. For the past seven years, the United States has bowed to protectionists by refusing to process Mexican applications for trucking licenses, a practice that NAFTA's dispute-settlement panel has condemned. Now the Bush administration wants to end this obstructionism, but Congress is getting in the way. The House has passed a transportation spending bill that would bar the administration from processing Mexican applications. The Senate is adopting the subtler approach of allowing Mexican trucks in -- but with conditions that will delay the opening of the border by a year or more.

The sponsors of the Senate measure, Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., say these conditions are reasonable because Mexican trucks fail U.S. safety standards 50 percent more often than American ones. But this claim is based on questionable numbers, and the right response to high Mexican failure rates is to apply existing U.S. trucking regulations rigorously. President Bush says he will veto legislation unless such discrimination is removed from it. That is the right course.

ALLOW TRAVEL TO CUBA, BUT DO SO DIRECTLY

Miami Herald: Lawmakers said they were trying "something different." It wasn't different, and it was just as wrong as when they tried it last year: While the House upheld the longtime U.S. embargo of Cuba last week, it voted to block federal enforcement of the embargo's restrictions on Americans traveling to the island.

Do representatives really want to encourage Americans to break the law? Spending money in Cuba would still be illegal for most U.S. tourists -- there just wouldn't be any funding to catch and prosecute those who did.

This isn't to say that travel to Cuba should be barred. We advocate lifting the current travel restrictions to stimulate more people-to-people relations and information sharing.

Whatever hard currency would be gained by Cuba's totalitarian government would be offset by the benefits of open communication. Let Americans go and by their presence give lie to the regime's propaganda.

Technically, Americans are allowed to visit to Cuba but are barred from spending dollars there -- which makes it virtually impossible to rent a hotel room or buy meals legally. A few U.S. citizens are exempted from this spending prohibition -- among them academics, clerics, journalists, those on cultural exchanges and Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island.

It would be better if Congress lifted the travel ban directly, after proper debate -- not in a piecemeal, backhanded fashion that ties the hands of those in the executive branch who must manage day-to-day relations with Cuba.

Meanwhile, the Senate should end this foolishness by voting down the provision.

UNIVERSAL EMBRACE OF A 'REGIONALIST'

Los Angeles Times: You won't find Eudora Welty, the fiction writer and memoirist who died last week at 92, on the California Department of Education's recommended reading list, and that's too bad. Schoolchildren who don't read "Why I Live at the P.O." -- or better yet, hear a recording of Welty reading the story in her melodious Mississippi accent -- miss one of life's delights.

Early in her long career, Welty was pigeonholed as a regionalist writing about "minor" (read: women's) themes like marriage, family and gossip. How could such works, often written with gut-busting humor, be taken seriously? Later critics appreciated how Welty's eye for detail and ear for dialogue captured a place in time -- and how her examination of relationships transcended it.

Medal of Freedom: She won everything from a Pulitzer Prize to a Medal of Freedom. In 1998 she became the first living writer to be included in the Library of America series of collected works, alongside such giants as Walt Whitman (who has one book on the California reading list), Mark Twain (four books), Henry James (three) and William Faulkner (two).

But the real judges were her readers, generations of them. Her tale of an eccentric small-town postmistress who moves out of her family home to live at the post office so delighted software designer Steve Dorner as a child that when he developed his widely used e-mail program, he named the cyber post office Eudora.

Welty was born before the 20th century's first appearance of Halley's comet and lived to see its return. What a light she herself leaves behind.




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