We already have an example of how free trade fails in NAFTA, passed in 1993 and still wreaking havoc in agriculture in Mexico and the United States. NAFTA and the 1996 Farm Bill worked together to force a “get big or get out” agenda.
Confused about the fast track trade debate? You’re not alone. The eye-glazing complexities of trade policy make a lot of people throw up their hands and give up. But you shouldn’t do that. Trade policy affects air, water, soil, plants, pollinators, immigration, workers’ rights, local control, zoning … the list goes on and on. “Free trade” legislation sells out all of our rights. This is the first of a series of posts explaining, in plain language, some of the reasons “free” trade costs all of us.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, headquartered right here in Minnesota, analyzed NAFTA’s impact on livestock farming, noting that the top four beef-farming companies — Cargill, Tyson, JGF and National Beef — increased their market share from 69 percent in 1990 — pre-NAFTA — to 82 percent in 2012. IATP explained:
“Those corporations take advantage of the rules in NAFTA to operate across borders. U.S. companies grow cattle in Canada and pork in Mexico that they then bring back to the U.S. for slaughter and sale. Along the way, independent U.S. hog and poultry producers have virtually disappeared. Efforts to at least label those meats under Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws have been vigorously opposed by the Mexican and Canadian governments. Meanwhile those factory farms contribute to grow environmental devastation in all three countries.”
NAFTA devastated small Mexican farmers, flooding their markets with cheaper U.S. corn. In the United States, IATP reported:
“… commodity prices dropped like a stone, and Congress turned to “emergency” payments, later codified as direct payment farm subsidies, to clean up the mess and keep rural economies afloat.
“Then, as new demand for biofuels increased the demand for corn, and investors turned from failing mortgage markets to speculate on grains, energy and other commodities, prices soared. It wasn’t only the prices of farm goods that rose, however, but also prices of land, fuel, fertilizers and other petrochemical based agrochemicals. Net farm incomes were much more erratic.”
NAFTA is already in full force. Next up: Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which are like NAFTA on steroids. While their texts are still secret, some provisions have been made public and some have been leaked by WikiLeaks. These include provisions such as prohibitions on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), which tells consumers where food comes from, and limits on individual countries’ ability to restrict GMOs or food additives.
Today, Congress is considering “fast track” provisions for these trade agreements. As Minnesota Congressional Representative Keith Ellison wrote recently:
“We in Congress don’t precisely know, because the rules governing negotiations mean we don’t have access to full draft texts and staff cannot be present when we see individual sections. We also cannot provide negotiating objectives for the US Trade Representative. The administration’s request for “fast track” authority is a request for Congress to rubber-stamp a text that more than 500 corporate representatives were able to see and influence.”
Fast Track means that Congress agrees, in advance, that they will not make any amendments to the trade deals presented, but will just vote yes or no. The president will negotiate the gigantic trade deals, under the pretense of increasing trade and benefiting the economy. . Congress could then vote the deal up or down, but could not amend them to remove any specific problems.
For detailed analysis of the trade deals and debates, I recommend the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. And keep watching News Day for more short articles on specific parts of the deals.