NAFTA threatens rural Mexico, bishops say

By  Catholic News Service
  • February 8, 2008

{mosimage}MEXICO CITY - Mexico’s Catholic bishops have pleaded with the federal government to renegotiate a trade treaty with the United States and Canada that they say is leading to the cultural death of their nation.

The bishops said the Jan. 1 abolition of agricultural tariffs under the North American Free Trade Agreement is putting poor Mexican farmers out of business and threatening the destruction of entire rural communities.

They said farmers and their families are now being driven to migrate to cities in Mexico or to the United States, which “currently has a very strong and anti-humane immigration program.”

In a mid-January statement, the bishops’ social action commission called on the state to “analyse the legal possibilities and economic feasibility of renegotiating the agricultural section of the free trade agreement in order to protect more decisively the interests of the poor rural and indigenous communities who are in the majority.”

“There exist legal, economic and moral conditions to renegotiate this section, which should be the priority for the government and legislators,” said the statement, signed by 10 bishops.

“No system is untouchable when it generates death.”

The bishops argued that the 14-year-old agreement has effectively pitted poor Mexican farmers against heavily subsidized American and Canadian producers with whom they cannot compete. They warned the government that the consequences of libertarian trading conditions could include the temptation of poor farmers to grow crops for illegal drugs which in turn could see a surge in violent crime.

“When the laws of the market impose upon the rights of the people and communities, profit becomes the supreme value and serves the large interest groups, excluding the poor and generating a global economic system which is both unjust and inhumane,” said the bishops.

“We are worried that this openness of trade, although beneficial for some powerful and technologically advanced farmers, will bring painful consequences for those whose survival depends on the land.

“In the present circumstances they will never be able to compete with the enormous subsidies the U.S. and Canada give their farmers and will remain in a disadvantaged position unless there are measures implemented that regulate and compensate for the difference in our economies.”

The bishops invited all Mexican Catholics to show solidarity with rural communities and said no one should be surprised that they had taken a stand.

The bishops’ intervention comes after the January removal of the last remaining duties on white corn, beans, sugar cane and powdered milk.

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