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Report: Farm exports down, closures up since NAFTA

June 27, 2001|By ROBERT NOLAN, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — In the seven years since the North American Free Trade Agreement became law, farm exports have decreased while farm closures and food prices have increased, according to a report released Tuesday by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

The analysis, conducted by the group's Global Trade Watch, was released in anticipation of President Bush's efforts to gain fast-track authority over trade agreements, particularly the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would give the president more latitude in negotiating trade pacts without congressional approval.

The agreement would be patterned after NAFTA and would cover 30 countries. Critics say it would force local farmers to compete with growing South American markets that produce everything from fruits and vegetables in Chile to beef in Argentina.

"We need policies that enable family farmers and their rural communities to prosper," said Bill Christison, president of the National Family Farm Coalition. "The FTAA, like NAFTA, will be a further detriment to family farmers, rural communities and working people because it fails to meet the principles that farmers have adopted as the basis for future trade agreements."

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Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who is on the House Agriculture Committee, said the report documented NAFTA's bad track record.

"I hope that now we can debate trade based on reality instead of on the basis that trade is always good," said Peterson. "South America wants our markets. Many of us fear the long-term implications if we get involved on the wrong basis."

While the report showed an overall decrease in farm profits since NAFTA went into effect, it highlighted a decrease in U.S. exports, including crops such as corn, wheat and cotton, one of the Valley's most important commodities.

"Our organization is definitely in favor of free trade — the concern comes when they are not fair," said Imperial County Farm Bureau President George Ray, noting the recent decrease in the demand for cotton. "The Imperial Valley is not like Kansas where 80 percent of their crop is wheat. We've got a lot more variety here and agreements have wide range of effects."

Some immediate effects of trade agreements such as NAFTA and FTAA, according to Millie Trevino-Sauceda of the Organizacion en California Lideres Campesinas in Pomona, include an increase in farm worker migration and worsening conditions for farm workers in both California and Mexico.

"Any time there are agreements that open up new areas to allow companies to go south, it will create more problems for workers." Trevino-Sauceda said. "Unions have less opportunities to organize and workers are afraid to lose their jobs when they know they can be replaced."

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook noted that farms have closed in Mexico as well as the United States. Mexican campesinos, or farm workers, are "migrating to maquiladora zones, driving wages down and increasing immigration," she said.

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