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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Farmers Call For NAFTA Reforms


By Dana Gabriel

NAFTA has produced winners, mostly multinational corporations and a long list of losers, which includes farmers. The trade agreement has been the source of much discontent and has become an easy target. NAFTA is so badly flawed, but it is only one part of our failed trade and economic strategy. It has hurt many farmers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Just as there are calls to reform energy, investment, labour and environmental provisions of NAFTA, many are also demanding changes to agricultural clauses found in the agreement.

At a recent trilateral conference held in Billings, Montana, there was a general consensus among livestock producers that NAFTA is not working for North American farmers, ranchers and consumers alike. The two day conference was hosted by the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC). The meetings addressed many challenges facing family farmers and ranchers, including the negative impact of NAFTA. Many of the promises made by proponents of the trade agreement, have not been kept and so called benefits have failed to materialize. Representatives at the conference are calling for new trade policies and market reforms, and are urging the leaders of the U.S., Canada and Mexico to renegotiate NAFTA.


Along with calling for changes to NAFTA, the conference made up of consumer groups and livestock producers from around North America, laid out other specific recommendations. In a press release, they called for the “Establishment of domestic food and agricultural policies that provide farmers with the cost of production without dumping commodities into other countries at below the cost of production.” They also called for “Setting up publicly-owned grain reserves to stabilize prices and to provide fair prices to both farmers and consumers.” Further economic integration and expanded trade under NAFTA has failed to benefit many farmers. Some have been forced to give up their livelihoods, as a result of low market prices. Conferences such as this one, illustrate the importance of working together. Now more then ever, it is essential that farmers in North America present a common front and pursue shared objectives, in order to better protect their future interests.

NAFTA has essentially pitted farmers from all three countries against each other. Some have sought to establish more control over the marketing of farm produce only to be harassed. In Canada, there are calls for governmental protections of farm marketing boards from NAFTA challenges. Under the agreement, many domestic policies to protect farmers are prohibited. NAFTA has enabled large agribusinesses to set up monopolies and in many cases, has prevented farmers from uniting and defending their own best interests. As a result of NAFTA and the WTO, a small number of multinational corporations control much of our food production in North America. NAFTA has been devastating for many farmers and nowhere is this more evident than in Mexico where over a million agricultural jobs have been lost as a result of the trade agreement.

In late January of this year, there were huge protests in Mexico City and other parts of the country, demanding that the government take steps to deal with the mounting economic crisis. Just like in the past, many farmers took to the streets protesting against NAFTA. They were demanding renegotiation of agricultural clauses found in the trade deal. Protesters were also calling on the government to rescue small farmers who have been decimated by the dumping of large amounts of U.S. and Canadian grains and other crops inside the Mexican market. If current agricultural and food policies are not changed, many more farmers will lose their livelihoods. Globalization and urbanization have further fueled social unrest and coupled with the rise in drug cartel violence, it appears as if Mexico could be on the verge of total collapse.

NAFTA, along with the WTO, have been used to drive down labour costs and environmental standards, in an effort to further increase corporate profits. Many farmers in North America and around the world have been greatly affected. While income for farmers is on the decline, food prices continue to rise. NAFTA undermines our sovereignty and has weakened local governments ability to make decisions concerning food and agriculture. There desperately needs to be more measures put in place to better protect farmers. Our globalized food system is a complete failure and has served to benefit multinational corporations, at the expense of small independent farmers. There are little things we can all do in our everyday lives to challenge this corporate system. This includes supporting and buying from local producers as well as becoming more self-sufficient.

Dana Gabriel is an activist and independent researcher. He writes about trade, globalization, sovereignty, as well as other issues.
Contact: beyourownleader@hotmail.com