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In recent weeks, we’ve asked you to tell us what you think is causing our persistently high unemployment rate and sluggish economic growth.  Many of you answered with a single acronym: NAFTA.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was engineered by the first Bush Administration and passed by the Clinton Administration.  The idea:  to spur economic growth by eliminating most tariffs — on exports and imports — so everyone could buy products at a cheaper price.

On its face, that sounds pretty good. But critics say eliminating those tariffs made the low cost of doing business abroad too attractive, and as a result, American manufacturing jobs have been decimated. Need to Know correspondent Rick Karr has this report on how NAFTA has changed one Midwestern city.

Take our poll: How do you feel about NAFTA now?

Watch more segments from this episode.



  • Vze24qyp

    Nafta was conceptually good, but is executionally not good. Trade unionists are still being assinated in Columbia and other South American countries. Environmental laws are still lax and uninforced in many of our trading partners. All of these missing components give our trading partners a cost advantage and that is just the beginning. George Bush the first said these elements would develop in our trading partners putting us on a more competitive footing but it didn’t happen.

  • Mark B.

    I am from the Evansville area. The segments on our community were balanced. However, following them was a lengthy case for NAFTA from apparently its principal architect. No fact checking of his claims on NAFTA’s impact was done on the show. That’s okay for a balanced piece; it’s called he-said she-said journalism. However, only he-said. No opponent of NAFTA got to make the case against it.

    This imbalance, along with the show’s implication that those of us who hated to see Whirlpool go might as well have been fighting gravity, (Remember the Kofi Annan quote?) leaves me with the impression that the episode was on balance an apology for NAFTA. As the suit from USI said, Whirlpool fridges are cheaper now! Maybe the people who used to make them can save their unemployment benefits to buy one.

    Need to Know’s correspondent said, We All Win! A lot of us from the area don’t agree.

  • Anonymous

    Are those MASSIVE AGRICULTURE SUBSIDIES to force Mexicans to migrate to maquiladoras and American farms “free trade”?

    Are China’s State Owned Factories and corporate complicity in that dictatorship “free trade”?

    Read about PetroCaribe and U.S.A.I.D, et al  and what Bill Clinton has said about American trade with Haiti, and why he apologizes for it.

    Read  how Monsanto, with U.S. government help, strong arms  countries all over the world

    Then you’ll begin to understand know how “free trade” REALLY works.

  • Jonymad

    nafta did not mean move out of the country to increase the profit of a small group of people its fatal flaw there was a law on the books that prevented that it got tossed hence the profit wage flight that desimated our industries if you impact a community it was against the law to relocate that should be re established to stop any further drain.

  • Robert_N

    Trade agreements may have the ‘potential’ to improve living standards, particularly in poor countries (if most of the wealth doesn’t go to an already wealthy ruling class). But to say they’ve improved product quality, above what American factories otherwise would, seems like a stretch. Many of today’s cheap foreign refrigerators, for example, need repair or replacement within a decade. So how often does the typical American consumer buy big ticket items and realize substantially greater value? They may gain some periodic up-front benefit, but they also lose part of the long-term economic strength and buying power of their fellow citizens, whose living wage jobs have been outsourced. Particularly in a slow economy, in which America is doing relatively little investing in the promising sectors of tomorrow.

  • Anonymous

    Are those MASSIVE AGRICULTURE SUBSIDIES to force Mexicans to migrate to maquiladoras and American farms “free trade”?

    Are China’s State Owned Factories and corporate complicity in that dictatorship “free trade”?

    Read about PetroCaribe and U.S.A.I.D, Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Levi, et al  and what Bill Clinton has said about American trade with Haiti, and why he apologizes for it.

    Read  how Monsanto, with U.S. government help, strong arms  countries all over the world

    Then you’ll begin to understand know how “free trade” EALLY works.

  • Discountbrains

    This professor in the appliance store talks as if its a fact that by importing foreign made goods is the only way to get better more efficient less expensive products. That’s just nonsense. There are many ways we could get better products. The truth is Americans should be paying the full cost of what they buy and not passing it off to Third World countries and exploiting their labor. Likewise, on another PBS show you had this Epstein guy implying that it was necessary for Bill Gates and that other creep to be paid billions to get the advances in computer technology. He chose very poor examples. 1000s worked on developing the internet and the Netscape browser . No doubt they made money, but no one has even heard of them. What THEY did probably has got to be far more important.

  • Hank

    From what the guy said about lower manufacturing prices helping consumers get products at lower prices is pure BS.The prices on everything has stayed the same or gone higher at a consumer/retail level. The makers of the products and the wholesalers and retailers are just making more profit in between. That is what nafta was for/more profit for the companies and  more people selling products on both sides of the borders. Those people paid low for their labor in other countries can not buy very much if anything out of their country compared to what people in USA could buy when paid a fair wage.A few now get richer while everyone else worldwide are having their wages lowered.What is fair about that ? That is what has caused a global recession/depression. Keep letting Companies get more places to use people with low wages and no environmental laws and I guarantee there will be a larger slowing down of world economies. When people become billionaires,they have only succeeded at becoming master money hoarders = more stagnant investment and less innovation because more people with creative minds and ideas have less money to invest in their new products they create or invent. Spread the money around to more people evenly and it gets spent faster back into products .All the rich people are trying to buy new inventors ideas and become richer,faster and send those products to low wage countries to be made to rake in even higher profits.Keep cutting fair wage jobs and see how many people there are with enough money to buy their products soon.Consumers with extra money make economies grow.Consumers with just enough money to buy essentials and keep up with cost of living bills,keep economies stagnant. 

  • Anonymous

     I was honestly very disappointed in the show, and thought the balance in presentation was one sided, in favor of NAFTA. Research by multiple reputable sources show that more jobs were lost directly attributable to NAFTA, than were gained. The proof is in the pudding, and our balance of trade favoring foreign countries is the proof. To add insult to injury, former trade representative under Clinton, Kantor, was allowed to falsely claim that five times as many jobs were gained from NAFTA as were lost, without the host even questioning where he supposedly came up with that figure. Rounded off, 700,000 jobs were gained, and 1,500,000 jobs were lost due to NAFTA, for a net loss of approximately 800,000 jobs. This is the figure that is generally accepted.

     I don’t know if PBS likes to have direct links provided, but using the bureau of labor stats, and the census bureau data, there were job losses in all fifty states. 115,723 in California alone. Other hard-hit states include New York,
    Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, North
    Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Tennessee,
    each lost more than 20,000 jobs, after counting gains and losses. These states all have high
    concentrations of industries where a large number of plants that have moved, and the propaganda, and that’s what it is, propaganda, that was allowed to be stated as fact in this piece, without barely a peep from the host, was more than disappointing, it was an insult to the Americans still out of work because of this horrible agreement. Sorry PBS, but I expect better more balanced presentations than this from you.

  • Mariegoody

    Like some other posters here, I was disappointed with the one-sided aspect of this show.  Many Canadians ( including myself) were against NAFTA, and continue to question the so-called benefits. It is heart breaking to know that people are losing their jobs. These are people who are the direct victims of freetrade and the rest of us deal with the spinoffs.
    The professor who was looking at fridges really annoyed me and I think he was wrong. Has he bought any appliances lately??  They are possibly cheaper, but cheap is the operative word here (as in junk) .  Not very cheap if they break, can’t be repaired, or have a short life span. Don’t even talk about the environmental cost of filling landfills with junked appliances!!!!!!!
       In the past three years our household has had to deal with the annoyance, repercussion etc of a new fridge ( apparently made in Mexico) which makes such weird noises on the defrost cycle that we are finally giving it away and buying a new one.  There is no issue with warranty because it still runs fine, but we are totally fed up.  When I complained at the appliance store the clerk told me that “some of these appliances made in Mexico have some weird quirks” He suggested I contact the manufacturer.
      This last week we got a safety notice on our 2007 Sony Bravia T.V.  We have to have it checked bya tech etc. You know the drill: arrange an appt., wait for the tech , tie up your time etc. Guess where it was made???—Mexico
      A couple of years ago we had fuel pump trouble on a vehicle.  In six months we had two replacements (faulty parts) and finally our dealership told us to contact Chrysler and make noise. They paid for a factory install pump which has been fine.  Guess what the parts guy at our dealership told us when he phoned to see how the vehicle was performing ??? “It’s a real pain for us now because a lot of these part are made or reconditioned in places like Mexico and we can’t count on them like we used to “..
       We had a major bathroom reno done by an excellent plumber.. When we asked about the fansystem (panasonic I think) and reliability of it he said”  We find it hard to predict anymore. The first run of any of these products (made in China) seem good, but after that it’s hard to say”  And then he apologized and said ” you know I really try to stand by my work”  Call me if you have problems”  It has been fine so far.  He also told to keep our septic pump because ” those good old ones last 25-30 years and a replacement (made offshore).  he couldn’t guarantee for more the seven.
      Perhaps that professor should go out and help someone dig up a septic pump that was made offshore and hasn’t lasted  like it would have like the old reliables made in the “USA”  I can guarantee he might get the point!!

  • demand_sider

    Whirlpool appliances are NOT cheaper! I’ve bought many cars for less than these $2,000.+ foreign made American brand refrigerators.

  • Guest

    I like what you sad – but I am not a Canadian.  Worse yet, Congress just passed three more alleged “free trade” bills – so now we can all compete against more low paid third world workers.  Has everyone in Washington DC lost their good senses or have they been paid off?

  • Guest

    What about the cheap dog food manufactured in China that killed a number of dogs?  Is this a way to get better more efficient less expensive products? 

  • Guest

    And in addition to poisonous dog food – how about the dry wall – wallboard – manufactured in China that gives off sulfur fumes – completely destroying the livability of homes?  Is this another example of a way to get better more efficient less expensive products.  There are a number of class action law suits on the wall board junk manufactured in China.

  • Guest

    When did Bill Clinton apologize for NAFTA?  He should do more than apologize – he should send money to those who are now unemployed because of NAFTA.

  • Anonymous

    Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, W, and Obama have loved “free” trade .

     NAFTA, however,  was passed by big majorities of Republicans and MINORITIES of Democrats in the House and Senate.