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Friday, December 05, 2008

Gov. Richardson Visits Mexico, Dodges Questions on NAFTA

RichardsondenvercrAn article in the Miami Herald reports on a visit to the private University of the Americas in Cholula, Mexico yesterday by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson -- a day after Richardson was nominated to serve as Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration.

Richardson was south of the border on a previously scheduled trip to speak with members of the Mexican business community. Former Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Ernesto Derbez accompanied Richardson and, when questions arose from the business folks about NAFTA, Derbez deflected them saying, "We won't give any answers to those questions."

The conservative government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon is strongly opposed to reopening NAFTA -- a possibility raised by Obama at a February 26 presidential debate:

"I will make sure that we re-negotiate in the same way that Senator (Hillary) Clinton talked about," Obama said then, referring to the trade pact. "I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced."

The article reported that Mexican "government officials said they doubted Obama would follow through on a campaign pledge to re-negotiate NAFTA," and quoted Mexican Agricultural Secretary Alberto Cardenas as saying it was "a little remote" that the United States would actually try to reopen the trade accord, implemented in 1994:

"If in the campaign, at some given moment in some American state, the president-elect was heard to make such a statement, I think we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves," Cardenas told reporters. "I see it as a little remote that such a re-negotiation would actually take place."

In an excellent article at the New Mexico Independent, Marjorie Childress addresses Richardson's free-trader reputation and how it may have evolved over the years:

Richardson has a reputation as a free-trade advocate who on the domestic front pushes low taxation, public investment in private ventures to spur economic development, and market-based solutions to social problems. In this respect he’s a Clintonite — a DLC Democrat through and through. What makes him an interesting choice for Commerce, though, is his internationalist perspective and interest in diplomacy.

... While Richardson is a self-described free trader, he also seems to have evolved in his thinking about free trade regimes. In a visit to the Council on Foreign Relations this past summer, he spoke frankly about his views on trade and NAFTA. He was no longer running for president but was certainly still positioning himself for a spot in the next administration. In this light, his comments might be construed as being as much about himself as about what we might expect an Obama administration to prioritize.

So will Obama, long-time free-trade advocate Bill Richardson and others in the Obama administration really get tough on labor and environmental standards related to trade negotiations? Nobody knows. Way too many Democrats talk the talk when they're involved in a campaign, but somehow their promises seem to get lost when they're in office. Unions, American workers and environmentalists haven't been amused. We'll all be watching closely when the Obama administration takes up trade issues next year. Will there really be any "change we can believe in?" Clearly, labor unions and many others will be pressing Obama to level the playing field in terms of trade and disappearing jobs -- especially in an economy like this one.

Photo by M.E. Broderick.

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December 5, 2008 at 03:09 PM in 2009 Gubernatorial Transition, Business, Economy, Populism, Environment, Labor, Obama Transition, Public Policy | Permalink


And Richardson isn't rushing to Washington to get a transition team together to work on these problems, either. Denish is ready, willing and able, but Big Bill just won't let go!

Posted by: Ellen Wedum | Dec 5, 2008 9:57:10 PM

" We won't give any answers to those questions."

In a true democracy, this kind of blatant affront to legitimate political conversation from an elected official would never be allowed.Of course, NAFTA's about non democratic control of economic forces by an elite few. I don't get a good feeling at all about Bill Richardson as head of Department of Commerce.That quote is so simple and so telling !

Posted by: d | Dec 6, 2008 10:38:00 AM

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