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NAFTA’s Rural Legacy: Dumping, displacement, and dependency

Originally Published on Medium on December 15,2019

Migrant from rural Mexico awaits transport to the United States. (Photo: © David Bacon

The following is excerpted from Chapter 8 of Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (New Press 2019).

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provoked a wave of migration to the United States. Many of those migrants were coming from the post-NAFTA disaster that was rural Mexico.

The country’s three million maize farmers were under assault. Their government had eliminated key agencies that supported small-scale producers, such as CONASUPO, which bought and marketed basic grains at supported prices. In its modernization push, the government had also forced through a modification of the Mexican constitution, written in the wake of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th century, which recognized communal rural property, as ejidos or as communal lands in indigenous areas. The constitutional reform created a path to privatization, which many feared would result in the dispossession of poor farmers. And then there were NAFTA’s reduced tariffs. To deepen the assault, the government had unilaterally decided to forego the transition periods for most agricultural tariffs, which would have phased them out over 5-15 years to