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Clinton, Obama Trade Debate Rings Hollow

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Message Jim Goodman
Senators Clinton and Obama are not making any meaningful commitments to trade reform. While they have shown themselves to be very adept at dancing around the trade issue, they will apparently say whatever their audience wants to hear.


Clinton and Obama seem to debate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) constantly, not the merits of free trade; but instead, they bicker over who hates NAFTA the most. In Ohio, where jobs have been lost to NAFTA, it's a bad deal. In farm country corn is king, exports and subsidies matter, there free trade is a good deal. Talk is cheap.


While both claim to have been critical of NAFTA from the get go, neither were very vocal in their criticism. During the early 1990's, when NAFTA was hotly debated in Congress and the general public, Obama was in Chicago heading up Project Vote! While Obama was largely responsible for this extremely successful voter registration drive, where were his protestations against NAFTA, a free trade deal that would later come back to put those same black voters he registered out of work.


Hillary Clinton was part of her husband's administration when he made passage of NAFTA a legislative priority in 1993. She claims to "have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning", but as First Lady she had no public opinion on it. Funny, plenty of union members, farmers and social justice advocates had an opinion and they were not afraid to express it.


Clinton has called NAFTA "good for America" and Obama doesn't think it's "realistic for us to repeal NAFTA". In December, both voted for the Peru free trade deal (an extension of NAFTA) despite the demands of millions in the U.S. and the bitter protests of Peruvian farmers against it. So, how sincere are Clinton and Obama?


What is at stake, why question NAFTA now, fifteen years later? As Ross Perot predicted, NAFTA did create a giant "sucking sound." Despite claims to the contrary, Ohio, like many Midwestern states, lost jobs to Mexico and Canada. It was cheaper to produce outside the U.S., so corporations chose to follow the spiral to the bottom of the wage scale.


Farmers believed NAFTA and other free trade deals would raise their profit margins, however, they were misled. Multi-national grain traders made huge profits dumping subsidized US corn on Mexico, but US farmers, and certainly Mexican farmers, never cashed in. To his credit, Senator Obama recognized that free trade deals help corporations not citizens, but apparently, he plans to do little to change it. Talk is, after all, cheap.


U.S. workers and farmers have lost millions of jobs and dollars through the failure of NAFTA yet in the North; we have seen nothing that compares to the tragedy NAFTA has brought to Mexico. A mid-January statement of the Mexican Catholic Bishops said that NAFTA was leading to the "cultural death" of their nation.


Mexico embraced Food Sovereignty as the right of the people to determine what they will eat and how it will be grown. Farmers, who produced and marketed locally, were undercut by US corn imports and driven off the land, pushing Mexico further into food dependence. The importation of genetically modified seeds threatens the native crop species of Mexico that have sustained the indigenous for thousands of years.

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Jim Goodman, a WK Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow, is an organic dairy farmer and farm activist from Wonewoc Wisconsin. Encouraging local food production and consumption in the industrialized north, allowing the global south sovereignty in (more...)
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