The View from a Wisconsin Farm: NAFTA Should be Repealed and Replaced

Jim Goodman

Wildweed Holsteins and Jerseys in Randolph, Wisc., has 60 cows and supplies Grassland Dairy Products Inc. with nearly 4,000 pounds of milk.

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., and rep­re­sents Fam­i­ly Farm Defend­ers as Nation­al Fam­i­ly Far­m’s Coali­tion board president.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH