MEXICO – U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, said the nation has the largest trade deficit and largest budget deficit in history.

“We are heading for disaster,” he told about 35 people Monday night at a trade forum at the Mexico town hall hosted by a labor union for local and state Democrats.

He said such agreements as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement have negatively affected the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States and in Maine.

“The business community hasn’t been involved in these trade deals,” he said, adding that free trade policies don’t require importing countries to meet labor and environmental standards.

The bottom line, he said, is a loss of 23 percent of the manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Gov. John Baldacci said that also translates into the loss of 24,000 manufacturing jobs in the state.

“We can’t be an entire service economy. We have to make something,” he said.

Both urged people to fight for a fair trade agreement.

“The free trade agreements have got to go,” said state Rep. John Patrick, chairman of the Citizens Trade Policy Committee. “With international trade agreements, since NAFTA, (1994) it has been a race to the bottom. We’ve given most of our manufacturing jobs away and more are on the way out.”

He said one American job equals 2.8 Asian jobs, one equals 7.6 Brazilian jobs, and one American job equals 23 Chinese jobs.

“How is any manufacturing job going to be secure when we’re competing in most countries that have no environmental laws. And in America, we expect decent working conditions,” he said.

He added, “Call the governor, call the president, call your congressmen. We need to tell them we cannot live with these trade agreements.”

Baldacci said he has been working with other governors to make then aware of the unfair trade issues.

And Michaud said the United States is not playing on a level playing field.

“Some colleagues are afraid to vote against so-called free trade deals because they think they’ll be seen as anti-business,” he said.

Both Baldacci and Michaud oppose fast track trade deals because they must be acted on quickly in an up or down vote without much chance to amend the agreements.

The forum, one of several held throughout the state, was sponsored in Mexico by the U.S. Steelworkers, Local 900.

A spaghetti supper, donated by Baldacci, preceded the forum, with the proceeds going to the local food pantry.