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Fast Track suffers set-back in the House
Farm groups put forward fair trade principles

Missouri Rural Crisis Center
Washington, D.C.

Corporate agribusiness and their allies in Congress and the Bush Administration are licking their wounds this week, acknowledging they do not have enough votes to give President Bush fast track trade authority. President Bush and the Republican House leaders had been pushing hard to win approval of the bill before Congress adjourns for the August recess this weekend. Family farm groups are declaring victory, arguing that fast track would only accelerate the loss of family farms by expanding corporate control over both domestic and global markets.

Last week, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC), along with sixty state, regional and national farm organizations, delivered a letter to every member of the House of Representatives strongly opposing legislation that would grant Fast Track trade authority to President Bush to negotiate a trade agreements -- such as the proposed Free Trade Areas of the America -- that would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the rest of the hemisphere. 

“The NAFTA trade model has failed Missouri family farmers and ranchers, and has helped fuel the economic devastation of rural America,” said Bill Christison, a farmer from Chillicothe, Missouri, who chairs both MRCC and the National Family Farm Coalition. “Commodity dumping, price manipulation, and devastatingly low commodity prices for farmers are just some of the casualties of the failed agricultural and trade polices embodied by NAFTA, the WTO and the Freedom to Farm Act. Congress and the President must focus on addressing the many failures of NAFTA and current farm policies instead of expanding this economic, social and environmental disaster to the rest of the Western Hemisphere.”

“Farmers know that we’re not all one big happy industry. NAFTA might be a great thing for Cargill or ConAgra, but farmers and consumers are paying the price to underwrite their huge profits,” said Christison.

Fair trade principles

MRCC and the other groups also put forth fair trade principles for agriculture that, if followed, would begin to reverse the severe agricultural depression inflicted on rural America for the past decade by failed agricultural and trade policies:

  • Allow countries to prioritize sustaining family farms and global food security.
  • Vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws at the local, regional, national and international levels to guarantee competitive markets for family farmers and strengthening these laws where necessary.
  • Allow countries to establish domestic and global reserves, manage supply, enforce anti-dumping laws, and ensure fair market prices.
  • Allow countries to ensure the production and distribution of a safe, affordable, and abundant food supply to meet their domestic needs and achieve food security.

“The impact of NAFTA and other free trade agreements is reflected in the ongoing farm crisis gripping the nation, and the billions of taxpayer dollars appropriated each year to alleviate the economic devastation caused by the failures of our export-driven farm policy,” said Roger Allison, a grain and livestock farmer from Armstrong, Missouri, and the Executive Director of MRCC. “We need a farm bill that pays farmers a fair price, creates a farmer-owned reserve, and curtails corporate concentration. That’s a plan that family farmers and rural communities can get excited about.”

Allison believes that NAFTA’s record as a model for farm and trade policies speaks for itself. “In Missouri, we’ve got the second largest number of farm operations and second highest number of cattle operations in the nation. Since NAFTA, we’ve lost millions of dollars by becoming a net importer of beef and have seen record low commodity prices in nearly every agricultural sector. That’s just devastating to Missouri’s family farmers.”

The Missouri Rural Crisis Center is a statewide farm and rural organization with more than 5,500 member families. The following table details NAFTA’s impact on agricultural products that Missouri farmers depend on for their livelihoods.

NAFTA’s Record for U.S. Farm Products, 1994-2000

  • BEEF - A $21 million national beef surplus has declined to a $152 million beef deficit.
  • DAIRY - The $416 million national dairy deficit has climbed to $796 million.
  • CORN - Corn exports have decreased 11%, and corn prices have decreased 20%.
  • SOYBEANS - Soybean exports have increased 16%, but the price has fallen by 15% creating a net loss of 2% in the value of our soybean export market.
  • COTTON - Cotton exports have decreased 28%, and cotton prices have decreased 38%.
  • WINTER WHEAT - Wheat exports have decreased 8%, and wheat prices have decreased 28%.

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Published in In Motion Magazine, August 7, 2001

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