I'm opposed to the proposed free trade agreement with Mexico. It will hurt American workers and not help Mexicans.

The only thing it will be is an extension of the existing program, which has already cost the United States about 370,000 good manufacturing jobs. That program, like the free trade agreement, was sold under false pretenses.Originally, it was supposed to be a twin-plants program - one plant on the Mexican side and one on the U.S. side. Products made on the Mexican side would come across the border and pay import duties only on the value-added. It was claimed that the program would provide good jobs to both Americans and Mexicans. Thus the Mexicans would not have to cross the border illegally in search of work.

Every new program has a sales pitch, and very few of them live up to them. This one didn't. The jobs are all on the Mexican side, while on the U.S. side there is virtually just a front operation. Jobs that used to pay Americans $8 or $9 an hour are being done by Mexicans, mostly young women and even some children, for 50 cents to 90 cents an hour.

Since the plants on the Mexican side pay little or no taxes, the Mexican municipalities have not been able to provide the infrastructure - decent housing, sewers and schools. The workers mostly live in slums. They have little or no protection from toxic chemicals and face hazardous working conditions.

In the meantime, the corporations make higher profits on the products while Americans are thrown out of work and their communities are devastated. Some 2,400 workers in Radford, Va., for example, lost their jobs when AT&T moved the jobs south of the border.

So what I expect this free trade agreement - which the Bush administration is trying to ram through Congress - will do is just more of the same. You don't need a fancy degree to figure that out.

Poor Mexico is broke. The people are impoverished. What are they going to buy that they are not buying now? What are they going to sell that they are not selling now? The answer is quite simple: cheap labor.

What will happen is that plants will close in the United States and open in Mexico, and the products will be shipped back here duty free so unemployed Americans can buy them with their welfare checks.

Farm produce, doused with all the dangerous chemicals we don't allow our farmers to use, will flood American supermarkets.

In the meantime, the Mexican workers will likely be exploited just as they are being exploited now in the present trade program, and Mexico's environment will probably be further polluted. If the Mexicans are not careful, Mexico could become the toxic dump for North America.

Congress should not trust the Bush administration or the present Mexican government on this matter. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to handle trade matters. What Congress ought to do is first of all knock the Bush plan off the fast track.

Then Congress should sit down with the AFL-CIO, with American environmentalists, with American farmers, with Mexican labor and environmental people, and craft together an agreement that will improve the lives and the environments of both countries.

This is one case where the American people are about to get gored but there is still time to avoid it. Communicate with those $125,000-a-year servants in Washington.