This may be one of the hardest columns I’ve ever written and maintained objectiveness. This week formal talks began in Washington, DC to renegotiate NAFTA. I wasn’t in favor of the original NAFTA agreement. My objection was it unfairly placed power in the hands of multi-national corporations over humanity and put small businesses at a trade disadvantage. This time around my focus is largely on farmers throughout Canada, America, and Mexico and the over-arching goal of national food sovereignty. Although, I of course, still have an eye for specific impact on laborers and consumers. One of the things that makes it nearly impossible to write a balanced column on this topic is that despite the requests of civil society organizations from all three countries for transparency in the process, negotiations are not public, nor are texts from the meetings released.
Every farm industry will be affected, particularly small scale farmers. The Trump administration has made it clear that it intends to put the interests of corporations first, as was the intent with the TPP. Jan Slomp, President of Canada’s National Famer’s Union NAFTA and the FTA (forerunner of NAFTA between the US and Canada) says NAFTA has not helped farmers. Since 1988 one in every five of our farms have disappeared, and we’ve lost over 70% of our young farmers.” This has also been the scenario in America. In some states, such as Maine, there is a growth of young people coming into farming, but they face numerous trade obstacles that prevent them from competing equitably.
Canada’s dairy industry has worked to ensure a fair management system to ensure farmers are paid for the cost of production, they are able to run at full capacity, and consumers have a reliable supply. Unlike in America, this is done without government subsidies. Canada’s dairy farmers have a legitimate concern that NAFTA negotiations will bargain away their supply management system.
Here in America, less regard has been placed on how much production of milk is too much and how subsequent cheapened prices for consumers will affect farmers. I remember when in Maine, failed state dairy policy resulted in lower compensation to dairy farmers. Farmers dumped milk in protest. Many inputs affect milk prices for consumers and compensation to farmers, NAFTA doesn’t have to exacerbate the problem through increased exports to Canada to bail our dairy system out of the repercussions of over-production. In other words, increasing exports by any country will not equate to fair prices for farmers on either side of the border.
I searched the internet and reached out to colleagues for an analysis of the current NAFTA agreement in regard to food production policies, particularly in regard to exports. I was looking for how this free trade policy has affected the growth of food production in all three countries. There is data, but there appears to be no overall analysis. However, I think an analysis is paramount to developing an agreement that serves everyone. As a community visionary with a particular interest in international development, I believe that collaboration and cooperation will achieve the goal of developing an agreement that supports local food production; encourages environmental stewardship; and human rights.
In June, Maine took the lead in America and passed a food sovereignty bill that allows communities to regulate local food production regardless of state and federal regulations. This outcome didn’t happen overnight. It took decades to formulate and a great deal of heartache, collaboration, and communication across Maine’s rural communities. It could be the stepping stone to a National Food Sovereignty policy!
A couple of months ago, I spoke with one of my farmers and community communicators in Alberta, Canada. She told me of the efforts of the Rural Coalition for collaboration of farmers throughout Canada to instill cooperation among farmers and encourage young farmers. America also has a Rural Coalition to promote a ‘people-to-people’s NAFTA.’ Mexico has The Mexican National Association of Rural Producers with a similar goal. All three have a common interest in collaboration and cooperation in developing a fair food system that considers environmental impact, fair labor conditions, social outcomes, economic justice; all with an eye to supporting community farming.
Judging only from the perspective of the Trump administration’s message, there is no current reason to think that renegotiations of the present NAFTA will move this free trade agreement from being corporate centered. A new approach in regard to food trade is needed that will support food freedom for everyone.
Renegotiate NAFTA to Create National Food Sovereignty