Chicago Tribune | August 2, 2008
Official: Mexico open to new NAFTA talks
By David Greising | Chicago Tribune correspondent
The Mexican government dismisses talk of disbanding NAFTA as politics, the country’s economy minister said Friday, but it would back the idea of a new round of North American trade talks, with the aim of including issues such as the environment and labor.
Eduardo Sojo, in Chicago this week to address the U.S.-Mexican Chamber of Commerce, was responding to criticism of the 15-year-old trade accord that resurfaced during the Democratic presidential primaries this year.
"What we do believe that we need in the region, in North America, is more integration, not less integration," Sojo said in an interview with the Tribune.
"If we review NAFTA, it’s to upgrade it, not to look back," Sojo said. "We hope the debates in the other countries go that way."
In a wide-ranging discussion, Sojo downplayed concerns that payments made by Mexican citizens working in the U.S. to their families back home have declined for the first time in a decade. And he expressed optimism that reforms proposed by Mexican President Felipe Calderon will enable Mexico’s state oil company to better exploit the country’s vast energy resources.
Trade issues are essential to the future of Mexico’s economy, perhaps none more so than the North American Free Trade Agreement. During the Democratic presidential primaries, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton criticized the treaty for not including adequate environmental and labor safeguards, and threatened to walk away from NAFTA if Mexico or Canada refused to renegotiate it.
Sojo said the Mexican government is uncertain how much substance is behind the campaign rhetoric.
"We hope it’s just campaigning," Sojo said.
He said Mexico has made significant progress toward meeting global standards on the environmental and labor fronts, something he said is necessary for Mexico to compete in a globally integrated economy.
A 2 percent decline in remittances from Mexican workers in the U.S., to $11.6 billion so far this year, is the first reduction in a decade. Tougher crackdowns on illegal Immigration and a slowing U.S. economy have been cited as reasons for the decline.
Sojo said the Mexican government is responding with economic stimulus programs in areas most affected by the decline. He warned against exaggerating the vulnerability of Mexico’s workers to the U.S. economic slowdown, noting that Mexico is seeing robust job growth despite the sluggish American economy, he said.
"It really is a change from the past. Econometricians would not be able to forecast this," Sojo said.