Mexico: NAFTA at 10—Growing Strains

A Mexican farmer and his cows protest NAFTA
A Mexican farmer lets cows roam freely at the entrance of the Deputies Chamber in Mexico City, Dec. 4, 2002, to protest the North American Free Trade Agreement (Photo: AFP).

The 10th anniversary of the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has fueled a vigorous debate in the Mexican press over the steep price that the nation’s most vulnerable economic sectors have paid for closer economic integration with the United States and Canada.

The government of President Vicente Fox has reaffirmed its commitment to the treaty—including the controversial elimination of most remaining Mexican duties on agricultural imports from its NAFTA partners. But political pressure is building for suspension or renegotiation of terms for trade liberalization and increased relief for domestic sectors damaged by foreign competition.

The specter of a fresh wave of foreign agricultural imports flooding the Mexican market has become a source of widespread alarm among Mexican commentators. “The lamentable present situation of Mexican farming is of such gravity that...the chief executive has the obligation to renegotiate the Free Trade Agreement,” argued Enrique del Val Blanco in El Universal (Dec. 5). He asserted that Washington’s demands for opening of the Mexican market to U.S. farm goods lose credibility in view of its persistent use of subsidies, sanitary regulations, and other legal restraints to protect its own agricultural sector from...foreign imports. By addressing these issues directly in a renegotiation of terms for NAFTA agricultural trade, “Perhaps more favorable paths will be opened for Mexican farmers, not just the brutal application of the laws of the market by rich countries that maintain undisguised protections and subsidies for their own citizens.”

NAFTA critics decried the Fox administration’s proposal of a 102-billion-peso ($9.9 billion) relief program for Mexican farmers in 2003 as an attempt to repackage existing assistance with modest supplementary aid to contain the political damage of the Jan. 1 elimination of most farm import duties.

“For nine years, the United States has launched an offensive of agri-food products against our country in the name of NAFTA,”  Víctor Quintana wrote in La Jornada (Nov. 26). “Our defenses have been so weakened that we now depend on imports for 40 percent of the foods we consume.” In the face of the looming “blitzkrieg” of zero farm tariffs at the start of 2003, he added, “Only one shield is possible: the declaration of an economic and social state of emergency in farming and a three-year moratorium on implementation of the agricultural provisions of NAFTA.”

Luis Hernández Navarro observed in La Jornada (Dec. 3) that Mexico’s dramatic transformation from “a closed and protected economy into one of the most open in the world”—sealed with the signing of NAFTA in December 1992—has begun to draw business and popular resistance.

“The injured from this process have received neither compensation nor the opportunity for retraining,” he asserted, while “the ranks of the excluded have swelled with the victims of the policy....The uneasiness with free resounds in all corners of the country.”