NAFTA Redux Looks a Lot Like TPP: Family Farm Groups in All 3 Countries Slam Secret Trade Talks

Rural America In These Times August 21, 2017

Demonstrators dressed like wolves at a 2015 protest in Seattle, Wash.

On Sun­day, offi­cials from the Unit­ed States, Mex­i­co and Cana­da wrapped up the first round of talks regard­ing the mod­ern­iza­tion” of the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAF­TA) — the eco­nom­ic treaty inked in 1994 that, depend­ing on who you ask, either lays the foun­da­tion for eco­nom­ic growth and pros­per­i­ty for all North Amer­i­cans” or has, in fact, exploit­ed work­ers in all three coun­tries, sup­pressed wages and out­sourced envi­ron­men­tal destruction.

Pres­i­dent Trump, a vocal crit­ic of NAF­TA eco­nom­ics on the cam­paign trail, made no men­tion of the talks last week, but the Insti­tute for Agri­cul­ture and Trade Pol­i­cy (IATP) — an alliance that works local­ly and glob­al­ly at the inter­sec­tion of pol­i­cy and prac­tice to ensure fair and sus­tain­able food, farm and trade sys­tems” — did. 

IATP crit­i­cized gov­ern­ment offi­cials’ refusal to allow input from the actu­al farm­ers any new deal will affect and main­tained that the direc­tion of the talks con­tin­ues to favor multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions instead of work­ing peo­ple — not unlike the sup­pos­ed­ly dead” Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP).

In an Aug. 16 press release, the Min­neapo­lis-based group released the fol­low­ing state­ment:

As the for­mal talks to rene­go­ti­ate NAF­TA begin in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., this week, fam­i­ly farm orga­ni­za­tions from Cana­da, the Unit­ed States and Mex­i­co denounce the direc­tion of the talks. Despite repeat­ed demands by civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions in all three coun­tries, the gov­ern­ments have refused to open the talks to the pub­lic or to pub­lish pro­posed nego­ti­at­ing texts. All signs point to nego­ti­a­tions designed to increase agribusi­ness exports and cor­po­rate con­trol over the food sys­tem rather than to sup­port fair and sus­tain­able trade and farm­ing systems.

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has stat­ed its clear inten­tion to con­tin­ue its trend of putting multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions’ nar­row inter­ests first by using the same blue­print that shaped the failed Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP). A review of sub­mis­sions on the talks includes pro­pos­als to dis­man­tle Canada’s suc­cess­ful dairy sup­ply man­age­ment pro­gram and elim­i­nate restric­tions on trade in GMOs and oth­er agri­cul­tur­al biotechnology.

Under NAF­TA and its fore­run­ner, the Cana­da-US FTA, farm input costs have gone up and infla­tion-adjust­ed com­mod­i­ty prices have dropped, yet the farmer’s share of the gro­cery dol­lar is small­er. We export more, but imports have increased faster, which means our share of our own domes­tic mar­ket is actu­al­ly shrink­ing,” said Jan Slomp, Pres­i­dent of Canada’s Nation­al Farm­ers Union. NAF­TA and the FTA have not helped farm­ers. Since 1988 we have seen one in every five of our farms dis­ap­pear and we’ve lost over 70 per­cent of our young farm­ers, even though Canada’s pop­u­la­tion has increased.”

The Unit­ed States can­not solve its dairy cri­sis by tak­ing over the Cana­di­an dairy mar­ket and putting our farm­ers out of busi­ness,” said Slomp. We need Cana­da to stand firm against any temp­ta­tion to nego­ti­ate away sup­ply man­age­ment. Our sys­tem ensures farm­ers are paid the cost of pro­duc­tion, pro­cess­ing plants are able to run at full capac­i­ty and con­sumers have a reli­able, whole­some and afford­able sup­ply of dairy, poul­try and eggs — all with­out any gov­ern­ment subsidies.”

Jim Good­man, a Wis­con­sin dairy farmer and mem­ber of the Nation­al Fam­i­ly Farm Coali­tion [and Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times con­trib­u­tor], agreed. Fed­er­al and State Gov­ern­ments and Land Grant Uni­ver­si­ties, at the behest of the dairy indus­try, have done all they can to encour­age U.S. dairy farm­ers to pro­duce more milk, nev­er ques­tion­ing how much milk might be too much or how the sub­se­quent cheap prices affect farm­ers. We can­not expect Cana­da, at the expense of their dairy farm­ers, to bail us out. Farmers­­ — whether U.S. or Cana­di­an — are noth­ing more than parts of the machine to the indus­try and NAF­TA. That’s the way free trade works.”

Ben Bur­kett, Nation­al Fam­i­ly Farm Coali­tion board pres­i­dent and Mis­sis­sip­pi farmer, not­ed that sim­ply increas­ing exports will not replace ​the need for ​ fair prices. U.S. fam­i­ly farm­ers and ranch­ers have demand­ed that the admin­is­tra­tion restores Coun­try of Ori­gin Label­ing (COOL) for meat, which would pro­vide more accu­rate infor­ma­tion to con­sumers while improv­ing our access to markets.”

Mex­i­can fam­i­ly farm­ers, who have been dev­as­tat­ed by NAFTA’s exist­ing pro­vi­sions that flood­ed their mar­kets with cheap grains, will join thou­sands of labor, envi­ron­men­tal and oth­er activists in Mex­i­co City tomor­row to denounce the talks and demand a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent approach based on com­ple­men­tar­i­ty and coop­er­a­tion. On agri­cul­ture, they insist that, Mex­i­co must guar­an­tee food sov­er­eign­ty and secu­ri­ty and exclude basic grains, espe­cial­ly corn. Trans­genic crops should be exclud­ed and the abil­i­ty of nation­al states to pro­mote sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture intact. Like­wise, Mex­i­co must main­tain its adhe­sion the UPOV [Inter­na­tion­al Union for the Pro­tec­tion of New Vari­eties of Plants] Act of 1978 and to reject the com­mit­ment to accede to the UPOV Act 1991, as it was intend­ed in the TPP.”

Vic­tor Suarez, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Mex­i­can Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Rur­al Pro­duc­ers (ANEC) added, This whole process should begin with a thor­ough, inde­pen­dent eval­u­a­tion of NAF­TA’s eco­nom­ic, social, envi­ron­men­tal and gov­er­nance impacts. The goal should be to restore nation­al sov­er­eign­ty over food and farm pol­i­cy, and to sup­port local farm­ing communities.”

For many years, Rur­al Coali­tion has advo­cat­ed for a peo­ple-to-peo­ples NAF­TA’ link­ing rur­al com­mu­ni­ties in all three coun­tries to col­lab­o­rate to improve their local economies and food sov­er­eign­ty. A rene­go­ti­a­tion of NAF­TA that fur­ther helps transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions while dimin­ish­ing com­mu­ni­ty self-deter­mi­na­tion will only has­ten rur­al eco­nom­ic col­lapse — exact­ly the wrong way to go,” said John Zip­pert, Rur­al Coali­tion Chair­per­son and long­time Fed­er­a­tion of South­ern Coop­er­a­tives staff mem­ber in Alabama.

NAF­TA has woven our economies togeth­er in ways that hurt fam­i­ly farm­ers, work­ers and our envi­ron­ments,” said Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Direc­tor of Inter­na­tion­al Strate­gies at the Insti­tute for Agri­cul­ture and Trade Pol­i­cy. We need a new approach to trade that pro­motes local and region­al food sys­tems, includ­ing pro­vid­ing for mech­a­nisms in all three coun­tries to shel­ter food crops from volatile mar­kets and dump­ing. Sim­plis­tic calls to expand exports won’t get us to the fair and sus­tain­able food and farm sys­tem we need.”

The next round of trade talks is sched­uled for ear­ly Sep­tem­ber.

(For more infor­ma­tion vis­it: NAF­TA Rene­go­ti­a­tion: What’s at stake for food, farm­ers and the land?” You can also view a col­lec­tion of 25 years’ worth of relat­ed research in a NAF­TA por­tal by click­ing here.)

This blog’s mis­sion is to pro­vide the pub­lic ser­vice of help­ing make the issues that rur­al Amer­i­ca is grap­pling with part of nation­al discourse.
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