Free Trade and America's Working
Edited by Christine Ahn
Food First books, 2003, paper
Anuradha Mittal, Food First
On January 1, 1994, the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented, joining Mexico,
Canada, and the U.S. into a common market to create the largest
free trade area in the world, covering (at the time) some 360
million people. Meanwhile, negotiations to create the World Trade
Organization (WTO) resulted in that organization's rules taking
effect on January 1, 1995.
... The proponents of NAFTA, as of all
trade agreements, ( promised it would raise standards of living
and ensure full employment in the context of expanding trade,
while upholding the objective of sustainable development. The
truth is that NAFTA has sparked a race to the bottom of wages,
employment, and working conditions, where workers in every NAFTA
country have suffered. NAFTA was to bring over 200,000 new jobs
each year to Americans. Between 1994 and 2000, the U.S. experienced
a net loss of 3.2 million jobs. In one ten-month period, between
September 2000 and June 2001, 675,000 jobs were eliminated in
the manufacturing sector alone. These were generally union jobs
with decent pay and benefits, and their loss left workers to find
new work that paid only 70 percent of their former salary.
The U.S. has captured world markets through low commodity prices,
with the result that one out of three acres planted in the United
States produces food or fiber destined for export much of it sold
at below the farmer's cost of production. For example, the U.S.
exports corn at prices 20 percent below the cost of production,
and wheat at 46 percent below cost. Practically the only producers
that can survive in this situation are big agribusiness farms
that garner the overwhelming majority of government subsidies.
So U.S. taxpayers keep big producers afloat, small farmers can't
compete and disappear, and the low farm commodity prices that
free trade fosters only increase the profits of processors, exporters,
and seed and chemical companies.
On January 1, 1994, the inauguration of NAFTA was answered by
the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)
in Chiapas. Since then, millions of people have taken to the streets
in India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia,
South Africa, Europe-everywhere-in massive demonstrations to show
their outrage against the free trade paradigm.
Unified by a commitment to universal values
of democracy, social and economic justice, peace, and respect
for life and human dignity, the global justice movement that has
come together cannot be merely identified as an "anti-globalization"
movement. It is the global movement for justice, for women's rights,
for immigrant and indigenous peoples' rights, for workers' and
farmers' rights. It is the movement with the conviction that a
better world is possible and the alternatives that will bring
it into being. This new human rights movement is an open challenge
to the lies of free trade agreements.
Dena Hoff, National Family Farm Coalition
Free trade is no longer about an exchange
of commodities between countries-wheat for coffee or bananas.
What free trade is really about is procuring the unregulated movement
of unlimited amounts of capital anywhere in the world. To this
end, farm families have become pawns in a dangerous game played
by powerful people who trade away the futures of the next generations
of farm families, who in turn neither understand nor consent to
the rules of the game.
When Congress gives up the right to debate
and amend trade agreements, they stop any meaningful participation
by the American people in decisions that will affect every facet
of their lives as well as the lives of every person on this planet.
Free trade is no longer an economic issue.
It is a moral issue. Valuing trade over all, including citizens'
right to participate in trade decisions and to hope that free
trade can be fair trade, is wrong.
In the nearly ten years since NAFTA, the facts show that the impacts
to family farmers and ranchers in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico
have been disastrous. Yet we stand ready to export this disaster
to the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association
U.S. agricultural policy believes that
Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) can feed a hungry world, and even
worse, that they can do it better than a robust mixture of vibrant
family farmers. In effect, the government subsidizes large corporate
giants like ADM, Monsanto, and Tyson, which doesn't reduce hunger
in the world, but increases the inequitable distribution of wealth,
with wealth trickling upward and away from small family farmers.
John Bunting, Dairy farmer
Dairy farmers are failing now in spite
of every effort. Milk prices have continued at record lows for
over a year. Many of us feel betrayed. In other parts of the state
and the country, those who have gotten big upon the advice of
experts feel an even greater sense of betrayal. There are record
levels of foreclosures throughout the country.
While dairy farmers are seeing record
low milk prices, imports of dairy products have poured in from
all over the globe.
Cheese is coming from countries unknown
for cheese production. Lithuania is now the fifth-largest exporter
of cheese. We import from there a type of cheese called Goya.
It has no tariff rate quota and when grated is indistinguishable
from Italian type grated cheese. It is imported for about 42 percent
of the cost of cheese from Italy.
If you consider the imports of powdered
dairy products, you see the global corporate hand reaching to
countries around the globe. There has been a steady increase of
imported dairy proteins from India. We have increased our imports
of caseinates from China this year. Dairy powders are coming from
Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. It is a known fact that milk from
that part of the world is commonly contaminated with persistent
radioactive residue from Chernobyl.
Pietro Parravano, Pacific Coast Federation
of Fishermen's Associations
Our markets for wild salmon have largely
collapsed due to the flood of farmed fish imports. These farmed
salmon operations are mostly owned by a few large European corporations
that have been successful in externalizing their true costs of
production, making the public pay for the environmental damage
these operations cause-never mind the potential human health risks
some of these aquacultured products present because of the use
of antibiotics, pesticides, and food colorings in fish farms.
Cheap farmed salmon has driven down the
price paid to fishermen for wild salmon to the point many can
no longer break even, even in Alaska where salmon runs have been
exceptional. As a result fishermen are selling out, if they can
even find buyers for their boats and permits. Processing plants
are closing and the fishing infrastructure of so many of our coastal
communities is beginning to collapse.
The shrimp fishery in the Southeast and Gulf is suffering a similar
plight with the flood of cheap farmed shrimp imports from China
and elsewhere. Cheap imports, mostly farmed fish products from
nations that either directly subsidize fish farming or indirectly
subsidize it by allowing operators to externalize costs, are just
one problem facing fishing men and women from increased globalization.
U.S. fishermen are required under U.S.
law to follow stringent conservation measures to protect fish
stocks, other marine life, and ocean ecosystems. This is an acceptable
standard, but it does come at a cost. This would not be a problem
if we were competing with fish from other nations abiding by the
same conservation and management standards, but we are not. The
World Trade Organization (WTO) has held that many conservation
measures are "impediments to trade" and has struck them
down. Thus, U.S. fishermen have to abide by stringent conservation
measures-which we believe in-but our competitors do not, thereby
placing us at a competitive disadvantage.
Last year's farm bill requires country-of-origin labeling and,
for fish, a requirement that they be labeled as "wild"
or "farmed." Those types of national labeling requirements,
including even FDA requirements for labeling fish with food coloring
or state requirements for labeling fish for mercury content, could
be viewed by the WTO as trade impediments.
... there is a big push among some large chemical and biotech
firms to promote genetically modified food products. It's not
just soy or corn. Transgenic fish are on their way. Even if nations
or states decide to prohibit or control genetically engineered
fish to protect native natural stocks or the environment, the
WTO could overrule them. Who elected the WTO?
Dolores Huerta, United Farm Workers of
Free trade, as exemplified by NAFTA, has
hurt hundreds of thousands of farmworkers here in the U.S. Since
NAFTA, we have seen new waves of workers emigrating from the coffee
growing regions of Veracruz, Mexico, where they were once small
family coffee farmers. The free trade of coffee on the world market
has destroyed the price coffee buyers once paid small family farmers.
As a result, they are no longer able to support themselves and
their families off the revenue generated from the coffee they
grow, forcing them to leave their farms, risk their lives crossing
the border to the U.S., and seek employment on farms in this country.
... This displacement is not only limited
to coffee growers. is estimated that 1.75 million Mexican nationals
have been displaced due to free trade. Throughout Mexico, thousands
of small family farmers grow corn for their own consumption and
for sale within Mexico. These farmers, however, cannot compete
with the corn from the U.S. In 2001, U.S. corn exporters dumped
over five million tons of corn on the Mexican market at 25 percent
below market cost. The Mexican government has reduced subsidies
for corn production by 61 percent since NAFTA went into effect;
meanwhile in the U.S., commodity payments continue to favor large
multinationals that both grow and purchase corn and other grains
from U.S. growers.
In the U.S., we have witnessed the dramatic
decrease in the acreage of crops such as apples, asparagus, broccoli,
cauliflower, mushrooms, grapes, and strawberries. In the last
five years in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, three major food
processors have closed their doors due to the availability of
cheaper crops from other countries. In eastern Washington, the
largest asparagus processor in the U.S. threatens to close, due
in large part to the continued importation of tariff-free asparagus
from Peru, which is far cheaper than asparagus grown locally.
Kate Bronfenbrenner, School of Industrial
and Labor Relations, Cornell University
... the impact of trade and investment
policy and capital mobility on workers and wages goes well beyond
the union organizing process. Each day U.S. workers need only
pick up the newspaper or turn on the news to hear yet another
story of a major company shifting operations or threatening to
shift operations to Mexico, China, or other countries. In fact,
in just the first seven months after PNTR was passed by Congress
in October of 2000, our research found that more than eighty corporations
announced their intentions to shift production to China, with
the number of announced production shifts increasing each month,
from two per month in October to nineteen per month by April.
The number of jobs that the major media estimated were lost through
these production shifts was as high as 34,900, fourteen percent
of which were in unionized facilities. During this same period,
another 148 corporations announced plans to shift production to
Mexico, covering another 29,000 jobs, 48 percent of which were
union. However, these were just production shifts and job losses
announced in the major media. According to our estimates, the
actual number of jobs lost through production shifts to China
and Mexico averages between 70,000 and 70,000 jobs each year.
The U.S. companies that are shutting down
and moving out of the country tend to be large, profitable, well-established
companies. They are primarily subsidiaries of publicly held, U.S.-based
multinationals, including such familiar names as Mattel, International
Paper, General Electric, Motorola, and Rubbermaid. Most have been
in operation for nearly half a century, and many are unionized.
Thea Lee, American Federation of Labor
and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
"Free trade" has been sold to
the American public and American workers as a cure for all that
ails us. Proponents of so-called free trade-regional agreements
like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), World Trade
Organization (WTO) negotiations, and the granting of permanent
normal trade relations to China (PNTR)-have claimed that these
agreements would create high-paying export-related jobs here in
the United States, bring prosperity to developing countries, and
spur economic growth and political stability worldwide. The outcome
has been quite different.
Since NAFTA and the WTO were put in place
(1994 and 1995, respectively), the United States has lost over
3 million jobs, according to estimates by the Economic Policy
Institute, which calculates the employment impact of changes in
the U.S. trade balance.
Advocates of NAFTA promised better access
to 90 minion consumers on our southern border and prosperity for
Mexico, yielding a "win-win" outcome. Yet in nine years
of NAFTA, our combined trade deficit with Mexico and Canada has
ballooned from $9 billion to $87 billion. The Labor Department
has certified that more than half a million U.S. workers have
lost their jobs due to NAFTA, while the Economic Policy Institute
puts the trade-related job losses at over 700,000. Meanwhile,
in Mexico real wages are actually lower than before NAFTA was
put in place, and the number of people in poverty has grown.
Since Congress granted China permanent
normal trade relations in 2000 (and China acceded to the rules
of the WTO), the U.S. trade deficit with China has grown by almost
25 percent, hitting a staggering $103 billion last year-our single
largest bilateral deficit. Meanwhile, the Chinese government continues
to arrest and brutally repress workers who advocate for independent
unions or better working conditions.