Free Trade Isn't Fair

There is trouble. And this trouble is not in River City, nor any other. This trouble is in the hearts and minds of many people living today. It is particularly prevalent in what passes for conscious awareness among a large percentage of Americans.

This particular trouble is a rampant mental and emotional blindness to any truth other than that which is touted by a small group of red-neck wannabe role models. In other words, the present administration. The constituents of this self-serving cadre, a growing multitude of leather brains that are far better at procreating than any useful task, are like new converts to a radical religious cult. The delicious, heady experience of belonging to something seemingly larger than themselves has heightened their normal state of idiocy to a near comatose level.

For most of them, this is an improvement.

At least the leather brains have an excuse. What about the rest of us? In a so-called land of the free, how can we allow laws to pass and programs to happen that are great sources of trouble and evil? Take the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA as it is commonly called.

To a leather brain, the terms North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, mean whatever the power mongers say it means. But to the rest of us, shouldn't the word "free" cause mental alarms to go off? I mean, in principle, the concept of "free trade" sounds great, but what, if anything, is ever really free?

More to the point, will so-called "free trade" work to the good of everyone concerned?

The stated purpose of NAFTA was to essentially open the borders of Canada and Mexico to the tariff free flow of goods and capital. This also includes unrestricted capital investment. free of national and local laws.

According to a US Trade brochure, NAFTA works. It fuels economic growth, fosters dynamic trade and investment, creates productive partnerships and provides greater job opportunities. Since its passage in 1994, NAFTA has been touted as an out and out success by free trade advocates.

I hate to be mean, but only a leather brain could suggest such a preposterous idea. Unless of course, success means making huge fortunes without regard to the cost in human suffering and sacrifice.

Surely if NAFTA is in fact a "free trade agreement", it promotes sustainable economic development, protects and promotes labor rights and improves the lives of those who produce the goods. But how does NAFTA hold up when scrutinized according to these guidelines?

In answer, let's visit the shanty town of Nuevo Amanecer (New Dawn), just outside Reynosa, Mexico. This settlement of half-built wood and cardboard huts, located across the US/Mexican border, near McAllen, Texas, is just a few months old. It serves as a prime example of the chaos and desperation destined to be the legacy of a failed NAFTA.

Many of those who reside at New Dawn are from the far southern region of Mexico: Oaxaca and Chiapas. They, like many others, have fled north to the border, causing the population of cities like Reynosa to grown by two-thirds! The reason for this mass exodus can be summed up in one word: maize.

Since NAFTA began, over one million maize farmers have lost their land and moved north in search of other ways to earn a living. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Maize is Mexico's number one crop. It is grown mostly in the south on Mayan lands. For five millennia maize has been the staple crop of the region and the country. Almost 20% of the total Mexican population of 100 million people is engaged in growing this near sacred crop on small farms. Yet by the year 2009 it is estimated that 15 million Mexican maize farmers and their families will lose their land and a traditional livelihood that has been call the backbone of Mexican culture and society.

How can this happen? What could NAFTA possibly have to do with it?

NAFTA brought with it two major changes the will result in the demise of the Mexican maize industry. The first change came at the hands of George Bush Sr., who persuaded the Mexican government to cancel article 27 of the Mexican constitution. This article guaranteed that lands held communally, mostly by indigenous communities, could never be sold. This land, handed down generation to generation, comprised the family farms of the same indigenous people who have cultivated it for a thousand years and more.

The removal of article 27 by the Salinas administration, allowed private interests, such as large corporations interested in cattle, timber, mining and power generation to move in and seize lands previously held by the indigenous maize farmers.

The second change was the elimination of tariffs. These tariffs protected Mexican maize from cheap US imports. Once tariffs were removed, maize, grown in the US on government subsidized, mechanized corporate farms, sold for $110 a ton on the Mexican market. Maize grown in Mexico in the traditional manner, on the other hand, sold at $240 per ton.

The main premise of NAFTA is that the American maize can be sold at a lower price because it is produced more efficiently. Therefore it obviously deserves to supplant the Mexican product which must be inefficient.

This is not necessarily true, however, because all things are not equal between agribusiness in the US and Mexico.

In addition to receiving government subsidies, American growers, unlike their Mexican counterparts, heavily utilize herbicides and pesticides which harm the environment and ultimately result in weaker varieties of maize. The cost to the environment and the cost of research to develop new replacement strains of maize are not accounted for in the low sales price of the American product.

Mexican grows avoid these costs by cultivating an amazing 4,220 varieties of maize on small organic farms. However, they receive no subsidies.

NAFTA took affect January 1, 1994. In Mexico wages along the border with the US fell from 97

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