Mexican farmers protest as last NAFTA barriers fall

THURSDAY, JAN. 3, 2008

MEXICO CITY – Farmers in this country organized scattered protests Tuesday and Wednesday as the final trade barriers on U.S. corn, beans, sugar and milk fell with the full implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement on New Year’s Day.

Corn and beans are staples of the Mexican diet and subsistence crops for millions of farmers. Opponents of the treaty said the free entry of relatively cheap U.S. corn will devastate rural Mexico and help spur emigration.

But the government of President Felipe Calderon celebrated the end of the trade barriers, whose gradual elimination began in 1994 when the treaty among the U.S., Mexican and Canadian governments took effect.

Still, about 100 Mexican farmers partially blocked the border crossing between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, carrying signs that read “Without Corn There is No Country.”

Protesters blocked several of the traffic lanes entering Mexico for much of Tuesday and part of Wednesday, according to news reports.

Mexico’s tortilla producers association said the final implementation of the treaty would reduce the number of Mexican corn producers and could lead to a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in the price of tortillas. It gave no details.

NAFTA critics say Mexican farmers cannot compete with their American counterparts because the government subsidies they receive are paltry compared with those granted to U.S. farmers.


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