The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) must be replaced with a transparent trade agreement that ensures three things: farmers receive fair prices for their production; consumers are guaranteed the right to know the content and origin of their food; and strong environmental protections are put in place to protect the sustainability of rural communities.
Though NAFTA has increased trade between Canada, Mexico and the United States, farm profit margins did not increase. Multi-national grain traders made huge profits dumping subsidized U.S. corn on Mexico, crushing much of Mexico’s farm economy to the point that Mexican Catholic Bishops said that NAFTA was leading to the “cultural death” of their nation. Trade agreements should promote fair trade that supports farmers of all countries, not just the financial interests of multi-national agribusiness corporations.
To give just one recent example of how rural communities suffer from reckless trade policies, on April 1, Grassland Dairy Products, the nation’s largest butter maker, informed 75 Wisconsin dairy farmers that as of May 1, their milk would no longer be needed since, due to Canadian milk pricing changes, Canadian buyers had canceled contracts to import the equivalent of one million pounds of milk per day.
Potential changes in Canadian milk pricing have been known to Grassland for at least several months, but Grassland gave their farmers minimal warning.
Canada imposed no new taxes or tariffs on U.S. dairy imports. Canada wants to “buy Canadian” just as Trump says we must “buy American.” Canada currently imports U.S. dairy products worth five times the value of its dairy exports to the United States. What more does the U.S. dairy industry want? U.S. processors and producers assumed NAFTA promised them a never ending market for excess production.
As Canadians note, the real problem with the U.S. dairy industry is massive overproduction.
Because U.S. dairy farms continue to expand and push for ever greater production, at some point (now) there is no room in market. The market is saturated and farmers will suffer. Corporate processors, like Grassland however will not. They decry Canada canceling their contract, but have no problem doing the same to their farmers.
Ironically enough, Grassland has also been bankrolling the 5,000 cow factory farm expansion of Cranberry Creek Dairy in Dunn County, Wis., to further flood the domestic milk market. And as Darin Von Ruden, president of Wisconsin Farmers Union, notes, Grassland was cutting its milk purchases as part of the plan to build this corporate-owned 5,000-cow dairy.
Trade deals like NAFTA thrive on such commodity speculation that boosts corporate profits, while bankrupting family farmers, price gouging consumers and destroying the environment.
NAFTA should be replaced with a new fair trade agreement, one that ensures farmers receive prices that, at a minimum, meet their costs of production plus a living wage. Farmers should not be pitted against each other in a race to the bottom. They deserve to have access to their own domestic markets and to be protected from imported commodities that are unfairly priced below the cost of production (dumping). Furthermore, consumers of all participating countries should not be subject to trade rules that restrict their right to reject imports that do not meet their preferences on genetically modified content, pesticide use, food labels, or protect their local food systems.
The basic human rights of farm workers: fair wages and working conditions, must be protected by trade rules that support jobs and rural development in all three countries.
Food is a human right. Food sovereignty cannot be compromised by trade agreements designed by corporate interests. All nations have a right to decide what they will eat, how it will be grown and who will control it. No one should be forced to accept agricultural products they do not want.
Jim Goodman is a retired dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wis.