Trade

NAFTA and Mexican maize

The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

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Rolling southward

Last week I laughed when I read a comment from a Mexican health insurance executive blaming a 16% increase in the cost of health insurance last year on “people getting sick more.” Then my wife said, “Diet?” and I said, hm. And now I read this great post from Structurally Maladjusted on The NAFTA Diet.

Apparently Mexico is very fat, and has become so recently:

About 70 percent of Mexican adults are now overweight, according to government estimates, more than triple the number of three decades ago. Also, about a third of the country’s schoolchildren and teenagers are overweight, making Mexicans the second-heaviest people on the planet, gaining quickly on their American neighbors.

I don’t know of any easy way to figure out what proportion of food people eat is over-processed crap, and anyway, as SM points out, correlation is not causation. Common sense tells us, however, that a free trade agreement with a country whose government-subsidized food industry is killing its customers will not be good for you.

Indeed, living as I do in a country that recently ratified CAFTA and has for the last couple decades been rushing to adopt the American way of life, I’ve seen the food culture change in only the few years I’ve been here. Grocery stores have more (and cheaper) chips and crackers and string cheese and dips and all the other fun stuff you could nominally associate with a Super Bowl party.

Also, fast food is ever-cheaper and quickly becoming competitive with more traditional rice-and-beans-based options. Costa Ricans, like Mexicans, are putting on the pounds: Only 22% of men were overweight in 1982. Now, it’s 62%.

One thing countries like Costa Rica and Mexico do have going for them is healthier distrust of the companies whose terrible products make them fat. Just try unanimously passing a federal law in the US banning junk food from public schools and you’ll note the contrast.

Even so, I have no doubt that the globalization of the American diet will someday (if not already) be seen as one of the greatest cultural and public health travesties in history.

(Original image courtesy Enrico via Wikimedia Commons.)

Also posted in Arts and Culture, Costa Rica, Mexico | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Costa Rica and China have signed a free trade agreement. The agreement comes three years after the two countries formed diplomatic relations for the first time and removes tariffs on 90 percent of goods traded between them. It’s the first FTA China has signed with a country in Central America. [link]

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The New York Times reports that lithium is the next big commodities boom, just as soon as people start buying millions of electric cars. The metal was never in much demand before, but now it’s a principle ingredient of lithium ion batteries. The world’s largest lithium reserves are found in Bolivia, but multinational companies are exploring in Argentina and Chile as well. [link]

Also posted in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Economy, Side notes | Leave a comment

Brazil is hitting U.S. imports with trade sanctions in retaliation for U.S.’ illegal cotton subsidies. The tariffs on U.S.-made cars, fresh fruit, food goods, and (of course) cotton will go up. The World Trade Organization awarded Brazil US$829.3 million in annual retaliatory trade restrictions against the U.S. last year. [link]

Also posted in Brazil, Side notes | Leave a comment

Subsidies for drug traffickers

One of the longstanding, legitimate criticisms of NAFTA is that it put small farmers out of business by flooding Mexico with subsidized (and therefore cheap) U.S. corn. Apparently, Mexico had a mechanism in place to keep that from happening, in the form of its own subsidy program. As a cynical person such as myself might expect, things immediately went awry.

Reports the LA Times:

Today, the fund — far from helping the neediest — is providing large financial subsidies to the families of notorious drug traffickers and several senior government officials, including the agriculture minister.

The program allots cash to plots of land, not to individual farmers, so obviously the largest landholders end up getting the lion share of the pie, while the truly needy get a pittance. (In that sense, it sounds pretty similar to how U.S. farm subsidies work.)  Of the US$1.3 billion handed out last year, something like 80% went to 20% of the farmers.

(Image courtesy of Sam Fentress.)

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El Salvador could get sued before the World Trade Organization for subsidizing exports. The country currently gives a subsidy of 6%, which is against WTO rules. Nevertheless, many smaller WTO countries – especially in Central America – have subsidized exports for years, getting repeated exemptions from the WTO on this rule.

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Venezuela’s busiest port is shut down, as businesses and workers say the state-run port authority at Puerto Cabello hasn’t paid them in four months. Puerto Cabello handles 70% of the country’s container traffic.

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The region’s two biggest economies – Mexico and Brazil – are going to start talks on a possible free trade agreement.

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Argentina’s China problem

Chile: Got it together.

What with a Central Bank president defying her orders and a rogue vice president whose actions in her absence would be unpredictable, President Cristina Kirchner elected at the last minute to stay home from Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. She’s not the only one. Clarin reports that only 73 Argentine businesses will be present at the event, compared to over 250 at the last one in 2006.

Meanwhile, neighboring countries like Brazil, Chile, and Colombia are sending large delegations and building their own massive pavilions, like the one pictured, built by Chile. Argentina has to settle for a one-size-fits all model built by the Chinese.

Not the best way to make an impression.

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  • DAILY LINKS

    • The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

    • Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas ended his hunger strike yesterday after 134 days. Farinas decided to end his strike after the Cuban government said it would release political prisoners rounded up in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003. Get well soon. [link]

    • The Uruguayan selection, which has made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, just received a shipment of half a ton of fine cuts of beef for the mother of all asados in preparation for a contest against Ghana on Friday: "450 kilos of lomo, 200 of entrecot, 75 of vacío, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaña." [link]

    • Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre Cantú. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

    • From the days when coups were something of a regional sport, new documents detail a famous British ballerina's role in a plot to topple the government of Panama. The plan was to use her yacht to gather men and arms, then "land somewhere and collect in the hills." It didn't work. [link]

    • Mexico's Attorney General's Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

    • Two Brazilian ranchers were sentenced to 30 years in prison apiece for ordering the killing of an environmentalist nun: "Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old [Dorothy] Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers." [link]


    • This video of a kidnapping and car chase in Mexico is notable mainly for the bad-assitude of the TV journalists who were on this like white on rice. Well done, gentlemen.

    • The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: "His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor... He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts." [link]

    • Some cruise lines will cease traveling to Antarctica after this cruise season, as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil goes into effect next year. The ban came after a 2007 incident when a Gap Adventures ship got punctured by ice and sank, causing a mess. [link]