Responding to Strking Farmers, Mexico’s Calderon Pimps NAFTA

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Mexican Farmer Protests Price Of Corn

Another disgrace.  On January 2, I wrote that dozens of Mexican farmers had blocked a lane of the border bridge from Ciudad Juarez to El Paso for 36 hours to protest the removal of Mexico’s last tariffs on US and Canadian farm goods.  And now Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderon, has responded to the protests by saying that there’s no problem, NAFTA’s good for Mexican workers.  He has to be joking, right?

Join me across the Rio Pequeno.

According to Reuters:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon defended a regional trade deal on Monday even as farm groups were mounting protests against an expected flood of cheap U.S. agricultural goods since all tariffs ended January 1.

At the start of the year Mexico lifted 14 years of protection for corn, beans, milk and sugar under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that took effect in 1994. The regional trade pact groups Mexico, the United States and Canada.

The move will allow the United States, the world’s biggest corn producer, to sell more to the country that claims to have discovered the grain.

The Mexican Legislature, of course, disagrees.  According to Bloomberg:

Mexican lawmakers demanded [on 1/4/08 that] President Felipe Calderon consider renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and meet with farmers, who fear a flood of cheap U.S. imports.

Members of Calderon’s National Action Party and the two largest opposition groups agreed on the demand after farm workers staged scattered protests against the Jan. 1 elimination of duties on U.S. corn, sugar, beans and milk as part of Nafta. The request was approved in a vote today.

“This is a national security issue,” said Samuel Aguilar, of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, in a speech before the Congress. “The agricultural chapter of Nafta could generate a social conflict.” /snip

Mexico may lose as many as 350,000 farm jobs this year because of competition from the U.S., Cruz Lopez Aguilar, president of the Confederation of National Farm Workers, said in a Jan. 2 interview. Confederation leaders will meet with the Agriculture Minister tomorrow in Veracruz state to ask him to renegotiate the terms of Nafta, he said.

And, of course, Mexican farmers, who are most imperiled, vehemently disagree with Calderon.  They fear that competition with subsidized US corn will force them out of business (and indirectly and inevitably into fleeing to the US for work):

Some Mexican farmers say competing against highly subsidized U.S. goods could put thousands out of work on top of about 2 million Mexican farm jobs lost over the last decade.

But Calderon said increased trade integration with the United States and Canada was the only way to strengthen Mexico’s economy.

“The free trade agreement, negotiated almost 15 years ago, has its pros and cons, but overall it has benefited the country,” Calderon said in a speech.

And what, you might ask, is going to prevent Mexican subsistence farmers with poor land and not much of it, from being driven out of business by highly subsidized US Agribusiness and exportation of corn to Mexico?  And what, exactly, is the benefit to Mexico’s economy from causing hundreds of thousands of farmers to lose their jobs?

Calderon says:

“There are more, and better-paid, jobs than in 1994 in the sectors linked to the treaty,” said Calderon.

“Countries in the region now buy almost five times as many Mexican farm products than in 1994,” said Calderon. “We are the second largest providers of agricultural goods to the United States and the third largest to Canada,” he said.

But farmers complain they have not received enough support from the government since NAFTA was signed and say they will continue protest marches this month against the trade opening.

Calderon is also quoted in the Canadian press as claiming:

NAFTA, negotiated in 1993, has generally “been beneficial for Mexicans because it has given consumers access to a greater range of high-quality products at better prices,” Calderon said in his first broadcast address of 2008.

“At the same time, it’s allowed us to export more Mexican products,” Calderon said.

What do these claims mean exactly?  They mean that in production of some agricultural products (for example, tomatoes, vegetables) agribusiness in Mexico has expanded.  And because of low wages, those products compete against US products in the US. The large producers have entered US markets and sold large amounts of Mexican produce.  You can verify this in your supermarket’s vegetable aisles.  And, of course, Mexican supermarkets have more US goods for middle class purchasers to buy.

But this has nothing at all to do with poor, subsistence farmers in Mexico who cannot compete in sales of corn and now actually must buy corn from the US to feed their animals. source.

And if subsistence farmers cannot make a go of it on their small, subsistence farms in Mexico, they will, of course, be driven by economic necessity to find work elsewhere (read: the US).  They will be forced to migrate to the US for work.

That’s the connection between NAFTA and immigration, the very connection that the US government and the Mexican government just do not discuss.  To be clear: US trade policy impoverishes Mexican subsistence farmers and forces them to migrate to the US, but the US government persists in making believe that immigration of undocumented Mexican farm workers has nothing to do with US policy, but instead, is a matter of “legalities.”  And the Mexican government, which has a distinguished record of ignoring the plight of poor, subsistence farmers, and has had to pass legislation placing a ceiling on price of tortillas (which are made of corn) so that the Mexican poor could continue to eat, doesn’t care if poor families are displaced and leave so long as US products are in the supermarkets for those who can afford them.

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    • davidseth on January 9, 2008 at 12:31 am
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    I should add that Mexico is where corn was first domesticated.  And that makes the current problem an even more absolute disgrace.

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