Corporate agribusiness and their allies, in Congress and the Bush Administration, are licking their wounds, 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. Family farm groups are declaring victory, arguing that fast track only would accelerate the loss of family farms by expanding corporate control over domestic and global markets.
The Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC), along with 60 state, regional and national farm organizations, recently 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 trade agreements--such as the proposed Free Trade areas of 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, Chillicothe, who chairs 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 policies embodied by NAFTA, the World Trade Organization 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 are 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.
MRCC and the other groups also put forth fair trade principles for agriculture that, if allowed, 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 failures of our export-driven farm policy," said Roger Allison, Armstrong, 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 is 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 have the second largest number of farm operations and second highest number of cattle operations in the nation. Since NAFTA, we have lost millions of dollars by becoming a net importer of beef and have seen record low commodity prices in nearly every agricultural sector. That is just devastating to Missouri's family farmers."