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NAFTA: The Ripples And The Shock Waves

Your article ("Mexico: Was NAFTA Worth It?" Special Report, Dec. 22) recounts Mexico's impressive aggregate growth -- in exports, in foreign capital, and in total output -- but also reports that over half of Mexicans "have soured on NAFTA." This is not really a paradox: While NAFTA has been good for many businesses, it has been bad for many people. Free trade in most imports and exports has imposed on Mexico huge losses of jobs in traditional farming and small manufacturing. It has also depressed wages (not yet fully repaired), worsened inequality of incomes, and intensified the population pressure of "surplus labor" -- all of this aggravated by the U.S. economy's slump in 2000-2003.

Edwin P. Reubens

Weston, Fla.

On behalf of the 1 million or more Americans who lost their jobs, had their pensions cut short because of unemployment, and were forced to take jobs at lower pay levels, NAFTA is a great example of what "free trade" really is: nothing more than a legal scheme for the poor to steal from the rich. The plight of Mexico has existed for 200 years. As your article indicated, giving away 1 million American jobs will not solve Mexico's fundamental problems, which are many.

Etson Hougland

Fort Wayne, Ind.

Aside from the merits of your excellent article, the accompanying photo on page 71 is simply striking -- and powerful in its poignancy. I wondered what thoughts were going through the minds of those brave ?migr?s as they contemplated the descending sun and the dangers of their imminent journey. No doubt they looked forward to its rising on some future and brighter day when they would, one hopes, have reached their destination in America and, perhaps, found the means to forge a better life for themselves and for their families and loved ones left behind. Vaya con Dios!

Dick McAdams

Meadowbrook, Pa.

While revolving-door trade representatives were sequestered on Washington's K Street, and while obtuse investment bankers and the Wall Street press thought they had devised and sold to Congress the best trade arrangement ever, they all forgot to include Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) in their negotiations. Wal-Mart saw the immense openings the trade pact provided for export nations located outside the pact's geographical region to sell into the region.

The rest, as they say, is history. Wal-Mart has become the world's largest retailer, while manufacturers remaining within the confines of NAFTA are left fighting for scraps of whatever might fall from Wal-Mart's procurement table. Now, the same principals that devised NAFTA are working on a "free" trade zone for all the Americas. I don't know if they take their instructions from Wal-Mart executives or not, but I suspect the enlarged agreement will again mean little for manufacturers within the region itself while greatly increasing the market for manufacturers located outside, i.e., China.

Daniel Eliason

Santa Barbara, Calif. When BusinessWeek came to UnumProvident Corp. for a response to allegations from plaintiffs' attorneys about our claims practices, we were pleased to sit down with your reporter and share a wide range of information. We were disappointed, then, to learn that relatively little of what your reporter had been given -- all of which clearly contradicted the allegations -- was reflected in the resulting article ("Disability claim denied," Finance, Dec. 22). UnumProvident processes more than 420,000 claims a year.

UnumProvident is dedicated to fair and efficient claims processing. Our company paid more than $3.7 billion in lost income to hundreds of thousands of policyholders last year alone. No other company in the world pays more in disability claims. The number of disputed claims is very small. To meet policyholder obligations, our company maintains a strong balance sheet, including more than $27 billion in statutory reserves.

Tom Watjen, CEO

UnumProvident Corp.

Chattanooga So John T. Chambers and his colleagues are lobbying Congress against the Financial Accounting Standards Board's proposed standard for the expensing of stock options ("Will expensing cost the U.S. jobs?" News: Analysis & Commentary, Dec. 22). According to Mr. Chambers, if American technology companies are required to expense stock options, then more jobs "will go offshore, creating a growing competitive advantage over the U.S." Well, if expensing stock options does indeed make U.S. workers competitive, then why stop there?

If you follow Mr. Chambers' argument to its logical end, then Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) should also lobby FASB to prohibit the expensing of the salaries and wages of its American workers. Surely this will maximize the U.S. competitive advantage against its international competitors.

Reagan Ruslim

Toronto "The Secret behind those profit jumps" (Information Technology, Dec. 8) is one more sign that many in the world of corporate management still don't "get it." Reversals are not dishonest so long as they can be reasonably justified by the facts. What is amazing, though, is the evidence that some people still are concerned only with revealing what is required by law. The pervasive question is: Why the reluctance to tell investors the whole truth, no matter what the law requires? After all, it is those investors who have or are about to put their money at risk. If management has to manufacture an alibi for not revealing a part of the truth, then that part probably should have been revealed in the first place. To "err on the side of full disclosure" is not to err at all. It is the correct thing to do.

William R. Clarke

Richland, Wash. Am I the only one who finds S.C. Johnson's kickoff of "Gay 201" quite disturbing ("Coming out in Corporate America," Workplace, Dec. 15)? For a marketing executive to walk into the center of a room and start "telling stories -- about his boyfriend, his romantic life, and his experiences as a homosexual" is not at all appropriate for the workplace. And whether the discussion is heterosexual or homosexual in nature, such discussions in the workplace are out-and-out wrong.

There is a huge difference between marketing to the gay segment of our population, and for companies to "cram" a "lifestyle" of any nature down the throat of employees. I am almost positive that if a heterosexual marketing executive had done the same thing, he would have been immediately reprimanded and potentially terminated. Also, I would be interested to know if there was an "opt out" provision for taking the "class."

Lewis Boore

San Diego

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