Sunday, February 03, 2008

NAFTA Disaster

Mexican Farmers Demand Support vs U.S. imports
Here are two articles that help explain Mexicos imbalance caused by the American invasion of NAFTA. Governments must protect their people and their country from America, and those that don't will fall victim to them.

MEXICO CITY – Thousands of Mexican farmers, some riding tractors and
herding cows, flooded the capital Thursday to demand government
protection against cheap U.S. imports.

Trade barriers under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or
NAFTA, were lifted in January, opening Mexico for the first time to
tariff-free U.S. exports of traditional food like corn and beans.

Mexican farmers complain the government of President Felipe Calderón
is not doing enough to protect them against highly subsidized U.S.
goods. Protesters are demanding Mexico renegotiate the treaty with the
United States to maintain protections for corn and beans.

Long lines of slow-moving tractors choked highways from rural areas
toward Mexico City for a march toward the main Zocalo square in the
city center.

"The free trade agreement is like an open wound for the Mexican
countryside," said Victor Suarez, who heads a small farmers'
group. "You can give the patient medical attention but if you don't
stop the hemorrhage first the patient will die."

Since NAFTA took effect in 1994, corn tariffs have gradually been
phased out and imports of U.S. yellow corn to Mexico, mostly used in
animal feed, have soared. They now account for close to 35 percent
of Mexican consumption.

Mexican farmers fear zero trade barriers will encourage highly
mechanized U.S. farms to start producing white corn, which has been
Mexico's main crop since the Aztec times and is a staple food.

Opposition legislators who support the rural sector have called for
the resignation of Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas for failing
to do enough to support farmers.

In an effort to dampen criticism, Cardenas announced on Wednesday an
expansion of cash supports to meat and egg producers to buy corn for
animal feed, since international prices for the grain have
skyrocketed in recent months.

Cardenas said the negative effects of the trade deal for corn and
wheat growers will be offset by high international prices on
increasing U.S. demand for ethanol.

"High prices are helping us bring thousands of Mexican farmers out
of poverty. We have support programs for all the agricultural
sectors in place," Cardenas said.

By Mica Rosenberg

The 'Green Gold'

Mexico Avocado production, exports soar to feed growing demand north of the border
URUAPAN, Mexico - When Arturo Mendoza's plot of corn could no longer sustain his family, he joined the stream of illegal immigrants heading toward the U.S. from rural Mexico. During lunch breaks at a California furniture factory, Mendoza would think of home as he wolfed down tortas with chicken and chunks of avocado.

Little did he know that the creamy, green fruit would be his salvation.
Exports of avocados from the state of Michoacan, the top source of both the fruit and immigrants to Chicago, have risen fivefold since 2004. Mendoza and other Mexican farmers have found that exporting the crop is lucrative enough under the North American Free Trade Agreement that they don't need to go north to earn a living.

Mexico avocado sales strong Graphic Known here as "green gold," the avocado has taken on political importance as President Felipe Calderon faces renewed criticism of NAFTA's role in undermining the livelihoods of farmers. A caravan of tractors is crawling toward Mexico City for an anti-NAFTA rally Thursday.

The once-exotic fruit, meanwhile, has become a mainstream grocery item on the U.S. side of the border. This Sunday will be the biggest day for avocado consumption all year. American sports fans will consume an estimated 25,000 tons of avocado as they watch the Super Bowl with bowls of guacamole at the ready.

And in a final twist of globalization, industry officials say transplanted Mexicans in the United States are helping to fuel that booming avocado consumption and keeping export prices high back in their homeland.
"What we grow here is corn, but corn doesn't pay the bills. The government says it supports us, but what they give is laughable," said Mendoza, now back home in Mexico and general manager of a sprawling, 500-acre avocado plantation. "With the avocado, it is different. Those who work at that have something left for their families."

This rugged section of western Michoacan is Avocado Country, bustling with roadside stands selling bushels of the fruit. On a side street in Uruapan, someone has painted a mural of pre-Columbian figures brandishing avocado halves like shields.

After a bruising fight as part of the NAFTA debate, the U.S. has gradually let avocados enter its market. U.S. officials said Mexican avocados presented health risks, forcing Mexico to implement a system of preventing disease caused by fruit flies and other pests. The final barriers fell last year when Mexican avocados could enter California.

Although three-quarters of Mexico's avocados remain for domestic consumption, farmers have gravitated to the high prices in the U.S. wholesale market, now about $1 per pound, about 50 percent more than they can get in Mexico.

Michoacan exported about 200,000 tons of avocados last year, bringing in about $500 million. More than 5,200 orchards in Michoacan are certified to export the fruit, up from 61 just a decade ago.

The 2007 market was especially lucrative for Mexico because cold snaps in California and Chile damaged the crops of its main rivals.
The avocado boom comes at a time of discontent after NAFTA forced Mexico to remove its final barriers on corn and other key crops as of Jan. 1. Opposition lawmakers are urging Calderon to renegotiate the treaty, but he and U.S. officials have dismissed that idea.After running a surplus just after NAFTA's implementation in 1994, Mexico has faced agriculture trade deficits with the U.S. that top $1 billion annually.

In his New Year's address, Calderon cited avocado exports as proof that NAFTA, "in general, has been beneficial for Mexicans." He also pointed to boosts for a resurgent auto industry. Other proponents say Mexicans now enjoy lower prices on many consumer goods.

The government also is running radio spots with avocado farmers praising NAFTA. One spot quotes farmer Benito Camacho of Uruapan saying that, thanks to NAFTA, "there are low-income producers who now have a tractor, that now we have our little pickup truck."

Agriculture officials say the avocado is unusual because it is a niche product -- Mexico's only serious competitors are California and Chile -- that is developing mainstream appeal. Likewise, the crop can grow on hilly terrain and generally doesn't require irrigation.

While Mexican corn farmers suffer from a technology gap with the U.S., picking avocados is labor-intensive. At Mendoza's orchard, workers snatched fruit off trees with pickers that resembled elongated lacrosse sticks.

The Mexican avocado industry faces challenges, including keeping pace with producers who want to enter the export market. Also, agriculture officials worry that farmers are burning forests in Michoacan to expand their avocado-producing land.

Mexican producers also are sparring in court with their California counterparts, who delayed imported shipments of avocados last year for additional health inspections.

Jose Luis Obregon, managing director of the California-based Hass Avocado Board, the trade group that promotes the most popular type of avocado, said there is a direct correlation between a U.S. state's avocado consumption and its Mexican population.

California leads the way, but its consumers have eaten locally grown avocados because the Mexican variety was shut out until last year. Chicago ranks fourth in wholesale purchases of Mexican avocados.
Obregon noted that overall and per-capita avocado consumption in the U.S. has doubled in the past seven years as the population of people of Mexican descent has increased. "The new generation, they are born and raised on avocados," he said.

By Oscar Avila

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