Mexican farmers oppose free trade

01-02-2008 | |

Thousands of Mexican farmers, many riding tractors and herding cows, have marched through Mexico City to demand government protection against cheap US agricultural imports.

Trade barriers were lifted in January under the North American Free Trade
Agreement (Nafta), opening Mexico up for the first time to tax-free US exports
of traditional food like corn and beans.

Mexican farmers complain that
the government of President Felipe Calderon is not doing enough to protect them
against heavily subsidised US goods and are demanding that Mexico renegotiate
the treaty.

Yellow corn imports
Since Nafta came in
to force in 1994, corn tariffs have gradually been phased out and imports of US
yellow corn to Mexico, mostly used in animal feed, have increased. They now
account for close to 35% of Mexican consumption.

Farmers set one tractor
on fire and built an enclosure for dairy cows in front of the Mexican stock
exchange. Some carried black crosses or coffins representing the death of rural
Mexico.

The farmers fear the absence of tariffs will encourage large US
farms to start producing white corn, which has been a major part of the Mexican
diet since the Aztec era.

Call for ag-minister
resignation
Opposition politicians have called for the resignation
of Alberto Cardenas, the agriculture minister, for failing to do enough to
support farmers.

Cardenas said on Wednesday the government would offer
support to farmers to buy corn for animal feed, since international prices have
rocketed in recent months.

The minister said the negative effects of the
trade deal for corn and wheat growers would be offset by high international
prices caused by increasing US demand for ethanol, which is made from
corn.

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