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The Washington Post's Trouble with Numbers Mexico After NAFTA

Mexico After NAFTA

by SETH SANDRONSKY

On April 17, the Washington Post ran an article about Mexico’s economy and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect on January 1, 1994. Part of the focus was on market forces and the flight of some Mexicans to the U.S.

"Still, the past 13 years haven’t been all bad economic news for Mexico," wrote Manuel Roig-Franzia of the Post’s Foreign Service. "Spurred by NAFTA, Mexico’s gross domestic product has ballooned, multiplying nearly seven-fold, from $108 billion in 1993, the year before NAFTA implementation, to $748 billion in 2005."

If the Post’s data for Mexico’s GDP, or the market price of all goods and services produced within the country annually, was correct, it would be a world record for economic growth, according to economist Dean Baker, co-director of Center for Economic and Policy Review. Thus, economists and staff at the CEPR repeatedly contacted the Post concerning the assertion that Mexico’s GDP grew at a 17.5 percent annual rate over the past 13 years.

In fact, Mexico’s GDP grew at a 2.9 percent annual rate since 1993, the International Monetary Fund states on its Web site. Mexico’s per person GDP growth was 1.3 percent per year from 1993 to 2005 versus GDP growth per person of nearly 4.0 percent per year between 1960 and 1980, Baker adds.

Crucially, the Mexican economy as measured by GDP grew at an annual rate six times slower than what the Post reported for the 13 years ending in 2005. This is no small error for the top paper in the capital city of the U.S.

Does the IMF have a lock on growth figures for Mexico? No.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank also have GDP data for Mexico. And as of May 26, the Post had not printed a correction to its April 17 article, which reported that the Mexican economy "has ballooned" between 1993 and 2005.

Still, the paper’s ombudsman wrote on May 7: "The Washington Post is committed to correcting all errors that appear in the newspaper, just as we are committed to the kind of careful journalism that will minimize the number of errors we print. Preventing and correcting mistakes are two sides of the coin of our realm: accuracy. Accuracy is our goal, and candor is our defense."

The April 17 article ran on the front page of the Post. If the paper corrects the reporter’s error on Mexico’s GDP, will this admission find a home on page one?

SETH SANDRONSKY is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at ssandron@hotmail.com