NAFTA’s Promise Still Unfulfilled in Mexico: NYTimes

In today’s World Business section, the NYTimes ran soft criticism over the failures of the North American Free Trade Agreement:

In some cases, Nafta produced results that were exactly the opposite of what was promised.  

Local farmers were priced out of the market by food imported tariff-free. Many Mexican farmers simply abandoned their land and headed north.

Although one-quarter of Mexicans live in the countryside, they account for 44 percent of the migrants to the United States. The contradictions of Nafta are apparent in Guadalajara and the rich farmland around it.

“It isn’t possible for a peasant to make a living from the countryside,” said Francisco Vargas, president of an association that groups together 2,500 farmers from Etzatlán, about 90 minutes west of Guadalajara.

The farmers hold other jobs to subsidize their farming. Mr. Vargas is a teacher. Another of the group’s leaders is a retired accountant; a third has a sideline renting out construction equipment. Some farmers continue thanks to money sent by relatives working in the United States.

Farmers in the region have survived Nafta by raising corn yields through converting to modern farming techniques. They also lobby for government aid and band together to fight private oligopolies that sell seed and buy corn.

But their landholdings remain small, sometimes not more than about 10 acres, and they are at the mercy of rising costs and fluctuating prices. Seed is up about 20 percent because of the peso’s devaluation, while corn is off the high of last year as global demand drops.

The farmers say that they have raised their yields to double Mexico’s average of three metric tons per hectare, or more. (The average for the United States is more than nine tons per hectare.) Late last year, their high yields caught the attention of the federal government in Mexico City, which has promised new financing for the Etzatlán farmers and other commercial corn farmers.

“It’s a race against time,” said Antonio Hernández, an agronomist who advises the farmers for a coalition of farming associations in Jalisco state. “We have to demonstrate this before people abandon the land.”

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