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Mexican farm union demands trade reform

Mexican farm union demands trade reform

John Rice
Associated Press
Sept. 2, 2005

MEXICO CITY - The leader of Mexico’s largest farm union has demanded a review of the North American Free Trade Agreement before final tariff reductions take effect in 2008.

Heladio Ramirez, president of the National Farmers Confederation, told the group’s national convention that free trade had brought increased poverty to the small farmers he represents, forcing many to immigrate to the United States.

"We are demanding review of the Free Trade Treaty," Ramirez said, referring to the agreement that took effect in 1994 among Mexico, the United States and Canada.

He said small Mexican farmers had been devastated by low prices, high costs, competition from wealthy foreign producers and rich foreign subsidies that Mexico’s government had not come close to matching.

Ramirez did not specify the changes he would seek but said government should take a stronger hand in protecting producers. He acknowledged that the treaty could not be thrown out entirely, saying, "The damage is done."

"Farmers are not opposed to globalization and the free market," he said, just to "that libertine sort of free market" that allows foreign control of Mexico’s wealth and increasing concentration of economic power.

"We do not accept the loss of sovereignty over our resources," Ramirez said.

His comments before thousands of delegates, many in farm hats and cowboy boots, opened an event that drew many of Mexico’s most powerful politicians, including the two top presidential contenders for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

The farm union, created in 1938, was a crucial part of the PRI’s electoral and social machinery during the decades it ruled Mexico, ending in 2000 with the election of opposition candidate Vicente Fox.

The PRI still holds a plurality in Mexico’s Senate and Congress, and polls show it has a fair chance to regain the presidency in next year’s elections.

Ramirez called for a change in Mexico’s 23-year run of free-trade-oriented economic policies, referring to "the exhaustion of the thesis that proclaims the empire of the market."

"There are many reasons to demand a change," he said.

While a recent World Bank study indicated that rural poverty was declining in Mexico, Ramirez said that was attributed to increased income from immigrants abroad and to non-farm income.

 source: AP