By Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch
President George W. Bush has asked Congress for Fast Track powers to expand NAFTA to 31 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean through a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). President Bush and his principal trade advisors have announced that the debate about Fast Track is a referendum on NAFTA — and so it should be. Given Fast Track’s purpose to expand the NAFTA model hemisphere-wide through the FTAA, the seven-year track record of NAFTA for family farmers and ranchers bears close review.
During the 1993 debate over the fate of NAFTA, U.S. farmers were promised that NAFTA would provide a path to lasting economic success through rising exports. Consumers were promised lower food prices. These promised benefits never materialized during seven years of NAFTA: farm income has declined and consumer prices have risen while some agribusinesses — which lobbied hard for NAFTA and are avidly promoting Fast Track — have seen record profits. Now the Bush administration wants Congress to give it Fast Track Authority, effectively a blank check to expand NAFTA to fruit producing powerhouses such as Brazil and Chile. Congress would cede its authority via Fast Track to the Bush Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman. She was one of the previous Bush Administration’s negotiators for NAFTA and the Uruguay Round of GATT and then worked as a lobbyist for international fruit and vegetable giant Dole Foods at Washington, D.C. firm Patton, Boggs and Blow.
Granting President Bush Fast Track to expand NAFTA could have a devastating effect on fruit and vegetable growers. For example, Chile is a world-class producer of fruits (peaches, pears, apples and grapes) that compete directly with produce grown in the U.S. However Chile’s produce can be sold at lower prices because of cheap labor and weak pesticide and worker safety standards. Even without special market access privileges for Chile, U.S. fresh fruit imports from Chile grew by 42% to $597 million between 1996 and 2000.