Trade Experts: NAFTA Good For U.S.

Trade experts say when NAFTA was being negotiated, critics feared that the one industry that would be hit hard would be apparel. But one representative at a World Trade Conference being held at the Gulfport Grand Casino, says the trade pact has actually created more jobs.

"There have been some states like Virginia, Tennessee, and I think even Mississippi, where they have had three, four, five and six hundred percent increases in textile and textile mill apparel and textile mill product exports to Mexico since 1993," Dale Slaght, the Minister for Commercial Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico said.

Slaght says like any plan, NAFTA has problems, but he says overall, it's working.

"NAFTA has been beneficial to the U.S., although there will be very specific cases where particularly in small towns, where there's one major employer and he goes. It's tough on those folks."

That's what happened in Pass Christian in 1998. The Stuffed Shirt Company, with 230 employees, closed its doors. The company said it could do business cheaper in Mexico.

"A lot of these individuals were ladies, and this was a second income for their families, and of course some of them were single. It knocked them totally out of any income, so it definitely had an affect on us," Mayor Billy McDonald said.  "A small town like we have, you take the largest industry that we had here and you remove it just overnight, it has a great affect on us."

Sen. Trent Lott says fortunately, that's the exception rather than the rule. Lott says free trade is the way to go to open up worldwide markets, bringing more jobs to Mississippi.

"From the top of Canada to the tip of Argentina, it will open up to millions of people that will be in need of American products, and the trade could very well come through the Port of Gulfport or the airport at Gulfport, Biloxi," Lott says.