Washington, DC-Representatives of small farmers from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic arrived in the nation's capital this week to state their opposition the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), unless significant changes are made to the agreement.
As currently drafted, DR-CAFTA requires Central American countries to open their markets to the dumping of US rice and other commodities, which could spell economic disaster for the millions of people in the region who depend on agriculture.
"DR-CAFTA poses a serious threat to farmers in my country, who won't be able to compete with highly subsidized U.S. producers," said Victorio Valerio, president of the Dominican Republic's National Federation of Rice Producers (FENARROZ), which represents 30,000 small and medium-scale rice farmers in the country.
US rice producers are lavished with billions of dollars in government subsidies every year, allowing them to export their products at a price well below the cost of production. By lifting tariffs on imports from the United States and forbidding measures to safeguard food security and promote rural development, "DR-CAFTA will cause a flood of cheap imports, drive Dominican farmers out of business, and destabilize our economy," Valerio said.
Valerio was joined in Washington by Fabián Saavedra, a small rice farmer and provincial president of the National Farmers and Cattlemen's Union in Las Minas, Nicaragua. "Our farmers are among the poorest people in the country," Saavedra said. "And unlike US farmers, they don't receive much support from the government. Under DR-CAFTA, their livelihoods will be destroyed."
These are only the latest in a growing chorus of voices opposing DR-CAFTA. The trade agreement is under consideration by both the House and the Senate and could come up for a vote in the US Congress before the end of May.
Supporters of DR-CAFTA have billed the trade agreement as a potential boon to economic development in one of the poorest regions in the hemisphere. But while international trade does have the potential to promote development and reduce poverty, opponents say DR-CAFTA will do the opposite. "This trade agreement will only harm the very people its proponents claim it will help," said Stephanie Weinberg, Oxfam's trade policy advisor. "DR-CAFTA is a bad deal for poor countries, and Congress should reject it."