NAFTA needs visionary leadership


COLLEGE STATION, Texas – A leadership body that would evaluate trade barriers, participate in dispute settlement processes and offer direction in policy change is needed for further liberalized trade among North American Free Trade Agreement countries, a group concluded in a recent summary report.

Representatives from universities, farm organizations, agribusinesses and the governments of the three NAFTA countries participated in the Eighth Policy Disputes Information Consortium Workshop held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The workshop was organized by Ronald D. Knutson, a regents professor at Texas A&M University.

Trade issues. Despite gains in trade, the North American Free Trade Agreement hasn’t added substantially to trade liberalization, the group concluded. To take NAFTA to the next level of trade liberalization, it will require informed political leadership committed to the spirit of NAFTA – leading to increased coordination of domestic policies and harmonization of regulations across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Member countries must be made aware of and consider the effects of their actions on other NAFTA countries, the group concluded, and more national restraint must be exercised to avoid back-sliding in trade expansion.

Specific concerns include the proliferation of farm subsidies, anti-dumping actions, countervailing duties, and the imposition of sanitary and phytosanitary regulations that are not based on science.

Particular concern was expressed about the application of the anti-dumping provisions of trade remedy laws to agriculture, the group concluded.

Market forces frequently lead farm commodity prices to fall below the cost of production on both a seasonal and cyclical basis. Market-based price changes should not be the basis for legal actions in agriculture, according to the group’s executive summary.

Leadership body. The group proposed a supranational leadership body that could foster cooperation to find win-win opportunities to achieve the spirit of NAFTA rather than rely on technical compliance with regulations.

It would annually evaluate progress in achieving NAFTA’s objectives; identify and evaluate sources of trade friction; and mediate disputes, while seeking solutions that foster benefits for North American farmers, agribusinesses and consumers.

The workshop participants recognized the short-term difficulty in reconciling differing levels of farm subsidies. However, participants concluded there are a number of actions that offered many opportunities to facilitate trade:

* Establish uniform eradication and containment programs for animal diseases and pests.

* Adopt and implement food safety procedures throughout the three countries for both plants and animals at all market levels.

* Adopt common grades, standards and payment procedures for trade in agricultural commodities.

* Improve border infrastructure to facilitate trade, while assuring biosecurity.

* Establish a massive educational program on the accomplishments and problems involved with trade under NAFTA.

The executive summary from the workshop is available from the Farm Foundation office, 1211 West 22nd Street, Suite 216, Oak Brook, IL 60523, or by phone at 630-571- 9393, and by fax at 630-571-9580.


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