The controversial North American Free Trade Agreement isn't a marketing marvel but will help the continent's overall economy, a political science professor says.
"I don't think it's going to be a bonanza," said Phillip Kelly, Emporia State University professor and president of the Midwest Association of Latin American Studies.
However, he said, NAFTA should eliminate trade barriers and serve as an important building block in the economic development of Mexico, Canada and the United States.
"I favor free trade. I'm skeptical of tariffs," he said.
Kelly spoke Wednesday during a University Forum lecture at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread. His academic specialty is Mexico.
NAFTA is far from reality. It's being challenged in many quarters. President Clinton supports the pact, but more than 200 House members oppose it.
Polls show less than 50 percent of Mexicans support NAFTA, and Canadian Prime Minister-elect Jean Chretien wants to re-open negotiations.
In the United States, Kelly said the agreement would add 170,000 jobs and permit expansion of high-tech trade.
Some sectors of the U.S. economy will be hurt by the agreement, particularly people in low-skill jobs. Retraining those workers should be a government priority, Kelly said.
Kelly said NAFTA will cause economic upheaval in some areas of Mexico, because inefficient businesses won't be able to compete with U.S. and Canadian manufacturers.
American companies should think twice about shifting operations to Mexico, which lacks reliable transportation, utilities, clean water and educational institutions. The Mexican government is also viewed as corrupt, he said.
NAFTA lacks provisions to force the Mexican government to accept monitoring of industry to promote compliance with labor and environmental laws.
"Undoubtedly, there will be places where they will not be enforced," Kelly said.
He said he was troubled business interests had such a powerful voice in drafting NAFTA, while ordinary citizens were generally left out of the process.