GLEANINGS
For Mexico, NAFTA does not work

Mexican farmers travel to US to share the economic repercussions free trade is having on their countryside

By Art Hovey

July 19, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- Lincoln Journal Star: Here's a hint about the value of the North American Free Trade Agreement to farmers in Mexico:

Ninety percent of them don't export anything.

Under those circumstances, Jose Luis Alcocer de Leon and Emilio Lopez Gamez said in Lincoln on Monday, the 8-year-old pact signed by Mexico, Canada and the United States has not had a freeing effect on their country's farm economy.

In fact, it's about as thorny as the cactus Alcocer de Leon raises back home as a specialty crop.

"It would be better to cancel it," he said.

Alcocer de Leon and Lopez Gamez came to a state Capitol hearing room in Lincoln on Monday as guests of the National Family Farm Coalition, the Nebraska Farmers Union and of an array of other Nebraska-based farm groups that have taken a critical view of NAFTA on the U.S. side of the border.

Farmers Union President John Hansen said he was not surprised by what spokesmen for a Mexican farm coalition called the Independent Center for Farmworkers and Farmers had to say as its leadership pressures Mexican President Vincente Fox to call for changes in the agreement.

Hansen cited a speech he made the year before NAFTA took effect. "I said it was going to collapse the price of corn, cause enormous economic trouble in rural Mexico and cause a dramatic social upheaval as folks are forced out of the rural areas."

Hansen said NAFTA discontent in Mexico had to be a big factor in Sunday's national election in which Fox's conservative National Action Party may have lost substantially from its base in the Mexican Congress.

Lopez Gamez, also a member of the Economics Department at the Autonomous University of Sonora, provided a variety of facts and figures to underscore what he sees as an untenable situation for Mexican producers of corn, edible beans and other crops.

He pointed to "a dramatic drop in the prices of grain in our country," including one for corn of about 21 percent -- from about 600 pesos per ton, or about $60 in 1994, to about 470 pesos now.

Lopez Gamez also offered a long list of other damage the Mexican farm coalition blames on NAFTA. That includes:

  • A huge increase in corn imports from the United States from about 200,000-300,000 tons per year before NAFTA to about 8 million tons per year now.
  • A drop in the number of Mexican producers eligible for credit, from about 3 million in the early 1990s to about 220,000 now.
  • A jump in the number of people leaving the land and trying to join in the migration exodus to the United States. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the estimated number of people trying to leave has gone from 250,000 a year to 500,000.
  • Lopez Gamez and Alcocer de Leon are part of the outcry for major revisions in NAFTA, including a move toward guaranteed minimum prices for grain, especially white corn and edible beans.

But, Lopez Gamez said through an interpreter, "the government insists there's nothing wrong with NAFTA. It's really working."

Any changes would have to be mutually agreed to by the United States and Canada.

He and Alcocer de Leon said President Fox saw migration to the United States as a solution, not a problem. He said Fox also saw the money migrants send back to relatives in Mexico, perhaps $200 a month from a Mexican meatpacker in Nebraska, for example, not as a problem but as a source of economic vitality.

Reach Art Hovey at (402) 523-4949 or ahovey@journalstar.com.