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8. NAFTA Destroys Farming Communities in U.S. and Abroad

Source: Fellowship of Reconciliation
Date: Dec. 2000/Jan. 2001
Title: NAFTA’s devastating effects are clear in Mexico, Haiti
Author: Anita Martin

The Hightower Lowdown
September 2001
Title: NAFTA gives the shafta to North America’s farmers
Author: Jim Hightower

Faculty Evaluators: Tony White, Al Wahrhaftig
Student researchers: Adam Cimino, Erik Wagle, Alessandra Diana

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are responsible for the impoverishment of and loss of many small farms in Mexico and Haiti. NAFTA is also causing the economic destruction of rural farming communities in the United States and Canada. The resulting loss of rural employment has created a landslide of socio-economic and environmental consequences that are worsening with the continued dismantling and deregulation of trade barriers.

When NAFTA came before Congress in 1993, US farmers were told that the agreement would open the borders of Mexico and Canada, enabling them to sell their superior products and achieve previously unknown prosperity. Corporations who operate throughout the Americas, such as Tyson and Cargill, have since used the farming surplus to drive down costs, pitting farmers against each other and prohibiting countries from taking protective actions. These same corporations have entered into massive farming ventures outside the U.S. and use NAFTA to import cheaper agricultural products back into this country, further undermining the small farmers in the U.S. Since the enactment of NAFTA, 80% of foodstuffs coming into the U.S. are products that displace crops raised here at home. NAFTA has allowed multinational mega-corporations to increase production in Mexico, where they can profit from much cheaper labor, as well as freely use chemicals and pesticides banned in the U.S.

In both Mexico and Haiti, NAFTA policies have caused an exodus from rural areas forcing people to live in urban slums and accept low paid sweatshop labor. Farmers in Mexico, unable to compete with the large-scale importation and chemical-intensive mass production of U.S. agricultural corporations, are swimming in a corn surplus that has swelled approximately 450% since NAFTA’s implementation. Haiti’s deregulation of trade with the U.S. has destroyed the island’s rice industry in a similar manner. Urban slums, engorged with rural economic refugees, are contributing to the breakdown of cultural traditions and public authority, making the growing masses increasingly ungovernable.

The Mexican government clashes violently with any organized protest of NAFTA. Dissent in Chiapas and in Central Mexico has lead to the reported arrests, injuries, and deaths of dozens of activists. Community leaders like Minister Lucius Walker, executive of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, state that, “The biggest challenge facing all of us in this new millennium is to build a citizens’ movement to counter the corporate captivity of the Americas.”

The1993 NAFTA agreement desolated small farming communities in the U.S. and in Mexico and Haiti. With the scheduled 2009 lift on tariffs and import restrictions, as well as Bush’s proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) adding 31 more countries to the NAFTA agreement, many additional farming communities are in danger.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR JIM HIGHTOWER: The story created such traction among Lowdown readers because of its ability to dispel many of the mistruths, half-truths, distortions and outright lies purported by NAFTA proponents and the Bush Administration. By holding the NAFTA rhetoric up for comparison with the hard, statistical data, citizens can make objective judgments about the effectiveness (or, in this case, failure) of this policy.

Careful consideration of NAFTA’s record is central to discussions of Fast Track and the FTAA legislation now awaiting a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives in June. The proposed NAFTA expansion, formally called the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), would spread NAFTA’s rules to an additional 31 Latin American and Caribbean nations by 2005. The publicized
goal of the FTAA proposal is to facilitate trade and deepen economic integration by expanding the NAFTA provisions that eliminate tariff and nontariff barriers to trade and investment throughout the hemisphere.

Compounding the situation, the recently passed 2002 Farm Bill expands Federal subsidies for program crops and adds new commodities, causing farmers to be more dependent on the federal government. If it were merely an act of largesse by a benevolent government, it might be looked upon more favorably. But in light of the impending Congressional elections in key farming regions where races are expected to be hotly contested, the move is merely Bush-Rove “strategy” designed to give the GOP control of both houses of Congress.

A person can get more information on this issue by contacting the public’s No.1 trade-scheme watchdog, Global Trade Watch: http://www.tradewatch.org/ 215 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20003; 202-546-4611) or Mobilization for Global Justice: http://www.globalizethis.org/ 202-265-7714)

What’s next? The World Bank and IMF meet in late Sept. and early Oct. in Washington DC. Come to DC this summer to participate in protest planning.

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