Americans ask: What's NAFTA? A poll finds half never heard of it


WASHINGTON -- Only four months before Congress is expected to vote on the sweeping package of economic changes known as the North American Free Trade Agreement, a New York Times/CBS News poll finds that nearly half of Americans say they have not heard anything about the agreement.

Although President Clinton has often spoken of the consumer benefits of global trade, as he did repeatedly in Tokyo last week, FTC the White House seems to be letting others set the agenda for the national debate on the North American pact.

In recent months, Mexican officials have been criss-crossing the United States to promote the pending agreement that would create a single free-trade zone encompassing Canada, Mexico and the United States. Meanwhile, Ross Perot and some American labor groups and environmentalists have been opposing the agreement with increasing vehemence.

Administration officials, in their own defense, say they could not begin a sales campaign until side agreements about environmental and labor issues are completed and until Congress has ended work on the budget. But the poll charts the problems ahead selling Congress on the pact, which within the next 15 years would eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers among Canada, Mexico and the United States.

With only about a quarter of Americans in favor of the pact and about a quarter against it, according to the poll, the fate of the most controversial trade agreement in many years will depend on whether the administration can make a compelling case in the coming weeks.

The nationwide poll by The New York Times and CBS News was conducted by telephone with 1,363 adults from June 21 to 24, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll found that only 51 percent said they had read or heard something "about the recent proposal to create something called a 'North American free trade zone' composed of Canada, the United States and Mexico." Another 44 percent said they had not read or heard anything, while an additional 5 percent said they weren't sure whether they had or not.

The poll also found that people who have heard of the agreement tend to think, by a margin of nearly three to two, that the pact would result in fewer jobs.

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