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ATAMANENKO: Mexico, Haiti, Canada, the world--not so different after all

I have often talked and written about the negative effects of trade agreements, in particular NAFTA, on the ability of our farmers to make a decent living producing good quality food. 

I have used the example of BC fruit and vegetable producers who were once protected by in season tariffs but as a result of NAFTA have been put out of business or are struggling to compete with the cheap subsidized produce crossing our borders. 

This scenario is not unique to Canada but is found throughout the world.  Cheap subsidized US corn has forced Mexican farmers off their land as has rice in other parts of the world.  

Haiti, which imports 60% of its food, including 80% of its rice, is a prime example. In a country where the majority of its citizens earn less than $2.00/day the price of rice has risen from $1.10/kilo in 2008 to $1.50 in Port-au-Prince markets – a 30% increase.

What is disturbing about this is that Haiti was more or less self sufficient in rice back in the 1980s, until President Jean-Claude Duvalier liberalized trade with the US in order to cheaply feed the workers at American textile and electronic factories.

After a coup d’état in 1991 which deposed President Duvalier, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was brought back into power by the Clinton administration in 1994.  As payment, Aristide agreed to decrease the import tax on rice from 50% to 3%.  (I find it interesting that tariffs remain at 38% in most other Caribbean countries.)

What is most disturbing is that two American companies, Riceland Food and American Rice received $554 million in subsidies from 1995-2009 from the US government. As a result, imported American rice sells for 30-50% less than rice grown in Haiti.

Just as with our Okanagan cherry growers, farmers in Haiti are not able to compete with this cheap produce being ‘dumped’ in their country.  Instead of subsidizing farmers to revitalize local agriculture and contribute to their economy, Haiti, the poorest country in Latin America, spends an annual $500 - $600 million to purchase US rice. 

This is why farming groups representing 66 countries, including Canada’s dairy, poultry and egg farmers, signed on to the Call for Coherence, a joint declaration adopted in Brussels in June. This statement calls on governments to recognize the specificity of agriculture, and the right to food sovereignty in international trade negotiations.

It makes no moral or economic sense for any country to sacrifice its ability to produce food for its citizens because of international trade agreements.  Haiti should not only be permitted but encouraged to once again become self sufficient as it once was. 

Alex Atamanenko is the MP for BC Southern Interior.