Conceptually, the idea of a unified North American market with Mexico, Canada and the United States in trade partnership makes sense.

After all, Mexico is the United States' third largest trading partner. With a population of nearly 90 million people, Mexico is destined to have a profound impact on the future of North America.Any trade agreement must be carefully crafted. Our two nations possess vastly different standards of living. It took Europe's Common Market 40 years to integrate after thorough negotiations. Why is the Bush administration seeking to "fast-track" this treaty negotiation?

There are serious social, economic and political consequences to such a precedent-setting trade agreement. If Congress agrees to the administration's request, it will have no oversight, no way of amending the pact.

Thus far, the administration has refused to negotiate key provisions essential to any "free" trade agreement.

- Fair labor and benefit standards: Is it fair that thousands of American workers, who earn $10 an hour in wages plus benefits and who can afford to buy a house and a car, could lose their jobs to Mexican workers, who earn $1 an hour or less and cannot afford either a house or a car?

Foreign companies should not be allowed to exploit the teeming unemployed masses of labor in Mexico, a poor nation. Competitive advantage is not built on cheap labor, nor on escaping to tax havens nor avoiding environmental standards.

Rather, it results from increased investment in research and development, education and our own industrial base.

A bilateral dispute settlement mechanism must be included as part of this agreement to settle disagreements arising from divergent labor and benefit standards.

- Capital standards: During the 1980s, $80 billion in Mexican capital fled from Mexico. The flight of this money, vital to development, significantly impeded economic growth and has undermined resolution of Mexico's debt crisis. Mexican capital repatriation should be a prerequisite to any trade agreement.

- Expanded border inspection: More than 5,000 trucks cross the U.S. Mexico border daily. According to the U.S. Customs Department, Mexico continues to be a major producer of drugs and the major transit country for South American drugs. Can an FTA with Mexico go forward without expanded border protection?

- Election observer teams: Economic rights and political rights go hand in hand. Since any major free trade agreement is going to constitute tacit endorsement of the Mexican political system, doesn't the United States have a responsibility to assure through election observers the integrity of the Mexican elections system?

- Rights of workers: Do the inherent shortfalls of many existing foreign company operations in Mexico - with no safety regulations for workers, no fair distribution of profits, and with two-thirds of the maquiladora workers being women whose babies are chronically premature and of low birth weight - serve as a good guide of what could potentially happen on a much wider scale with an ill-conceived FTA?

- Environmental standards: With toxic waste from foreign-owned industries being dumped into Mexico's rivers, vacant land and local sewage trenches, where are the provisions for protection of the environment in this agreement?

- Agricultural standards: How does this agreement provide security for farmers against a huge influx of cheap produce; and further, how does it provide assurances to us all that Mexican produce will be safe and free of dangerous amounts of pesticides? Finally, how does this agreement assure fair and just treatment of farmworkers?

If the negotiations go forward with major gaps, as currently proposed by the administration, a serious blow will have been struck not just to all working men and women in North America but to the precepts of democracy itself.