Bonior doesn’t like the fact that many American farmers face increased international competition under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Indeed, his trip culminated in a stop at a Florida tomato farm in an area that trip organizers say “Hurricane NAFTA has hit the hardest.”
Perhaps Bonior takes comfort in the fact that, even under NAFTA, Washington can continue to burden consumers with a host of price supports, import quotas and subsidies. Those programs are nothing more than corporate welfare — hidden taxes paid by consumers to support farmers who can’t (or don’t want to) compete in the international marketplace.
Consider tomatoes. Under NAFTA, the United States agreed to drop barriers to trade in agricultural products. Mexico, with an ideal soil and climate for producing tomatoes, began to sell increasing quantities to American consumers. Tomato prices fell, benefiting all consumers.
But not according to Rich Levine, a Florida tomato packer and grower. “NAFTA is on its way to destroying an entire industry,” he says. “It has boosted Mexico’s economy at the expense of U.S. farmers.”
True, people are buying more Mexican tomatoes and fewer Florida tomatoes. There are now fewer than 100 Florida growers, down from about 230 before NAFTA. But is this unfair? The previous import restrictions included, in effect, a mandatory “vegetable tax” that millions of consumers paid to a handful of farmers.