See our Photo of the Week (and archive of more) ... and the echo follows

Opinion Advertize Permission
To be notified of new articles Survey Store About Us
Family Farms and U.S. Trade Policy

U.S. family farm leader speaks to European farmers

Part 2: Citizen Opposition to Corporate Domination
of U.S. Trade Policy

by Bill Christison,
Brussels, Belgium / Chillicothe, Missouri, U.S.A.

Bill Christison prepares a field for soybeans near Chillicothe, Missouri.
Bill Christison, president of both the U.S. National Family Farm Coalition and the Missouri Rural Crisis Center delivered this speech in March of 1998, in Brussels, Belgium to the Confederation of Paisans, a confederation of farmer organizations in 16 European countries representing two million farmers. Also present were delegates from the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Part 2:
Citizen opposition to corporate domination of U.S. trade policy

The November defeat of fast-track legislation in the U.S. Congress was a small yet very significant speed bump in the road for corporate America. It provided a new sense of possibility in the United States that the collective strength and strategies of Members of Congress, family farmers, consumers, labor, environmental, and religious organizations can confront and defeat a massive lobbying effort coordinated by the White House, major business interests, the Republican leadership in Congress and many international allies. The non-vote defeat of the expansion and extension of fast-track authority was a blow to one of the highest priorities of the Clinton Administration, next to the reform of our health care policy.

Despite this good news, this action will unfortunately not derail the agenda of corporate America since they have many avenues of influence. In addition to promoting international trade agreements, business interests are major contributors to U.S. elections. During the last election cycle in 1995-1996, $653.4 million was donated by business interests to influence the outcome of the election. The nation's largest corporate giver was Philip Morris, Inc. with $4.2 million in contributions, RJR Nabisco with over $2.3 million and Joseph Seagram and Sons with $2.55 million. Corporate donations yield favors in both the Democratic and Republican administrations - with USDA Secretary Mike Espy's resignation triggered by illegal and inappropriate gifts from Tyson Foods; a massive poultry contracting operation based in Arkansas. Today, corporate agribusiness and commodity organizations are still pushing hard for fast-track.

Corporate agribusiness was looking towards the five-year extension of fast-track authority for two main reasons: firstly, it wanted to expand NAFTA to South America, secondly, agribusiness wanted to cash in on the Clinton Administration's thorough commitment to opening market access for biotechnology and other chemically altered farm products. Under fast-track, it would be easier to attack the consumer and farmer concerns of the European Community and the trading structures that work well for farmers in other countries, such as the Canadian Wheat Board.

NFFC member groups and farmers within our working networks spent a great deal of their resources to defeat fast-track. Virtually every group in NFFC wrote letters and made phone calls to their Congressional delegation, issued anti-fast-track press releases and took part in other fair trade rallies and press conferences. Working through the Citizens Trade Campaign, the NFFC office worked to educate Members of Congress about how NAFTA had hurt farmers, and about how family farm agriculture will soon cease to exist under current trade policies. We were successful in convincing many Members of congress, including Republican and conservative Democrats that a new model of agricultural trade policy is needed.

As we all face 2000, the expiration of the current agriculture agreement within the World Trade Organization (WTO), we have no opportunity to forge a common agenda to push for positive changes in the agreement. The need for each of us in our countries to demand accountability from our governments has never been greater. Within the United States, we must mount a very aggressive effort since many of the representatives of corporate agribusiness view this same window as their opportunity to further promote their view of trade liberalization. It is unfortunately also the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture as they continue to tout the benefits of free trade while ignoring how unfair the terms of that trading policy have become.

In the last month, NFFC and the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA) adopted the following resolution which commits us to start a joint effort to address the upcoming negotiations process. Other family farm organizations will be considering this resolution at their upcoming conventions"

Trade and the negotiations of the WTO Agriculture Agreement

Approved February 1, 1998 at NFFC Annual Meeting

Whereas the current World Trade Organizations rules of trade for agriculture expire in 2000.

Whereas the current rules have proven to be a detriment to family farmers inn the U.S. and overseas.

Whereas, family farmers continue to suffer from the manipulation of world trade through export dumping by trade companies, through tariff escalating and restrictive business practices such as price fixing, market dominance and transfer pricing,

Whereas, the policy of the U.S. government is centered more on creating markets for agricultural biotechnology companies than on creating a sound, sustainable agriculture system that will provide stable income to farm families,

Therefore, be it resolved that the National Family Farm Coalition

  • 1. Call on the U.S. government to hold public hearings across rural America to get first hand information on the problem with current rules.
  • 2. Urge the U.S. government to subject its negotiating position to public comment.
  • 3. Invite other farm organization leaders to a meeting to discuss the possibility of developing a common position in relation to the upcoming WTO agriculture talks

Be it further resolved that:

  1. The National Family Farm Coalition take the position that no new Agriculture negotiation should be undertaken until
    a. Current obligations have been evaluated for their impacts on farmers and overall food security
    b. All commitments made in writing to various agriculture sectors to influence the direction of trade policy have been fulfilled or a reasonable attempt made to fulfill these promises
  2. WTO trade rules prohibiting export dumping need to be vigilantly enforced for agriculture products
  3. Provisions to prevent social dumping, especially child labor, should be negotiated
  4. Within the debates on sanitary and phytosanitary standards as well as on technical barriers to trade farmers' options to grow, label, and segregate supply should be upheld to provide consumers with the products they desire in the forms they require.

The work you are developing here in Europe is being replicated in other regions of the world. NFFC represented this perspective in a week long exchange in Japan on many of these same issues last month. There is the potential for joint policy options to be developed that address the areas that we collectively feel have the potential for change as part of the WTO negotiation process. This is important to set the goals of what a fairer agricultural policy would be. Non-governmental and peoples' organizations throughout the world are working to develop alternative frameworks to the WTO and to change the direction of the WTO itself.

We need to work together to build the foundations that will be the planning for 2000. We each know what farmers need in our own country but we must exchange our issues and strategies at our farms and communities within our different countries. Our voices must be amplified through expanded work of farmers and consumers to overcome the export strategy being promoted by many of our governments and agribusiness. I am very happy to have had this opportunity to be here today and look forward to our work together in the future.

Return to:

  • Part 1: The Impacts on Family Farms of 20 Years of Corporate Trade Agreements

Bill Christison, president of National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), is a fourth-generation family farmer from Chillicothe, Missouri. Bill and his wife Dixie, operate a 2,000 acre farm on which they produce soybeans, corn, wheat, hay and cattle. He is also president of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC), a grassroots farm organization with over 3,6000 member families. MRCC is a NFCC member group.

Bill is strongly opposed to use of genetically engineered soybeans and has worked actively to develop alternative marketing channels for farmers who wish to avoid using Monsanto-produced seeds. During the 1980s farm crisis, he was active in winning passage of federal credit legislation that enabled tens of thousands of family farmers to reschedule their debts, and has assisted numerous Missouri farmers in successful credit appeals and bankruptcy restructuring.

Through MRCC, Bill has been active in confronting and often stopping the advance of corporate factory hog farming in his state. MRCC has developed the Patchwork Family Farms Project, an innovative direct marketing program linking family hog farmers and low-income consumers in Missouri.

Published in In Motion Magazine - July 14, 1998