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March 30, 2010

Clinton Reversal on NAFTA Model?

Haiti collapsed house

While former President Clinton was visiting Haiti last week, he revealed that his views on trade policy have undergone some transformation since leaving office:    

At a news conference in Port-au-Prince Monday, Clinton said when he helped Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide return to power in 1994, Clinton also signed legislation that increased the flow of cheap American rice into Haiti.

But now, he says, "I think it was a mistake. I think it was part of a global trend that was wrong-headed."

Clinton says the theory behind that global trend was that wealthy countries could provide poorer countries with cheaper food than their farmers could grow.  That would lead poor countries to skip directly to industrialization. But Clinton says, once he left office and saw the effects of that policy on farmers in developing countries, he changed his mind.

"It is unrealistic to expect that a country can totally obliterate its capacity to feed itself and just skip a stage of development," he says. "It seems almost laughable now that we ever thought it."

It’s heartening to see one of the strongest proponents of the neoliberal economic model come to realize just how damaging that model has been. For Mexico, though, this realization has come about 16 years too late.

When NAFTA entered into force in 1994, cheap subsidized American corn from corporate farms flooded the Mexican economy, forcing hundreds of thousands of small corn farmers to leave their farms.  Many of these farmers, faced with corn prices below their cost of production, often had no choice but to emigrate to the U.S. to escape economic disaster.  During the 2007-2008 global food price crisis, poor Mexicans found out exactly how costly the destruction of the Mexican corn industry could be when tortilla prices, propelled by U.S. corn prices, skyrocketed by 60 percent within a few months.  

Now that Clinton has seen the flaws of the unfair trade model epitomized by NAFTA, could he press Obama to renegotiate NAFTA to make it fair for consumers, workers, and farmers in all three NAFTA countries?


(Thanks to Flickr user talkradionews for the photo)

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