The author of the original CAFTA stories has been on assignment, but I felt a response to Mr. McGowan’s concerns was in order. I appreciate his contribution to a compelling debate well worth pursuing.
MJT, Editor-in-Chief, La Cuadra Magazine.
We thank Mr. McGowan for the close read and response to the original stories. The time spent reviewing, researching, writing and responding to the work is appreciated. We still have significantly different views on the subject matter, but we hope that this response honors our commitment to advancing the conversation with the same respect shown by Mr. McGowan.
We come away from Mr. McGowan’s work with a clearer understanding of the issues, though we stand by Mr. Abbott’s analysis, with one crucial exception, which will be addressed momentarily. we would like, however, to address each of Mr. McGowan’s arguments in the order presented. As such we will employ the same subtitling used above to address his concerns, and presumably those of the reader.
MIGRATION AND MURDER:
Mr. McGowan takes issue with the charts and statistical analysis used in Part II of Mr. Abbott’s CAFTA series. This installment was titled: Free Trade and the Migrants’ Trail: La Cuadra’s Inside Look at CAFTA, Part II – Forced Relocation. His critique is twofold. First, he notes that the primary evidence, the above-mentioned chart speaks only of apprehensions. We admit to a lack of clarity in presenting that information and will endeavor to clarify here.
Mr. Abbott, working with Editor-in-Chief Tallon relied on statistics about apprehensions for two reasons. First, it is the only non-statistically modeled metric that we have of border crossings. Said another way, you can’t measure the number of migrants who don’t get caught, but arguably you can use the apprehension number as an estimate of the demographics of that population. We believe the major trends indicated by the chart are salient to understanding the significance of the increased traffic from Central America since passage of CAFTA. It was assumed that readers would conclude that United States Border Patrol Officers are essentially unable to actively target migrants by nation-of-origin while they are on patrol. They catch who is coming across the border and then gather nation-or-origin information in processing. Thus, no matter the number of Border Patrol Officers on duty (a number which has, as indicated by Mr. McGowan, grown significantly in recent decades), we are able to judge the relative flow-rates from origin countries. Moreover, Mr. McGowan directly asserts that, “It’s only logical that this multiplied manpower and stricter scrutiny at the border would contribute to a spike in apprehensions,” while, in fact, that is not what we see at all.
I invite you to look again at the chart. What we clearly see is a decline in overall apprehensions driven almost entirely by a decreasing number of Mexicans crossing the border, while at the same time, we see an overall — and significant — increase from the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador since the passage of CAFTA.
Mr. McGowan also notes “Honduras, however, saw only a 15 percent increase in apprehensions from 2005-13.” While by a close read, that is correct, Mr. Abbott and the editors included the information from all nations starting in 2004, in order to avoid charges of playing fast and loose with the numbers. Yes, Honduras had a particularly robust migratory year in 2005, for which no detailed explanation was presented. We still have none, but continue to believe that the chart, when seen in the light intended, still bolsters the argument that CAFTA has driven northward migration significantly. We are comfortable leaving judgment of that matter to the readers.
Lastly, Mr. McGowan points out that homicide rates are down in recent years in Guatemala. We do not dispute that point. He also notes that a well-sourced and researched evidentiary chain for the contention that narcotrafficking has spread in Guatemala over the past ten years was provided. We accept that was a failure in the original reporting and analysis. We consider, however, the spread of narco-influence in Guatemala in the past ten years to be axiomatic. Further, we consider it axiomatic that when you lower trade barriers, illegal as well as legal, trade flows with less resistance. While homicides have declined during a number of years in the past decade, we do not see that, in any way, as evidence of lessened narco-influence in this nation, this culture or this governmental system. Perhaps the streets have quieted because regional power structures have been established and fortified. Perhaps the majority of employees in the informal, illegal economy of the drug trade are taking the opportunity to get down to the business of making money. We are agnostic on the causes, but believe strongly that narco-influence is spreading throughout Central America. Still, we accept the charge that this could have been reported better.
CONCERNS ABOUT CORN
We further accept and appreciate the criticism for grossly oversimplifying the relationship between corn grown by giant agribusiness concerns in the United States and corn grown by Guatemalan campesinos. The assertion that the price of corn dropped with the introduction of agribusiness corn was misleading. We owe Mr. McGowan thanks for pointing this out to readers and we apologize for missing that edit.
A far better way to have reported this story would have been to dive further into the incredibly complex and competing matrices of dynamic supply and elastic demand in a changing marketplace. Corn-based products, in the international commodity economy, are particularly difficult to deconstruct, but we should have, with Mr. Abbott, have endeavoured to do so. As Mr. McGowan properly points out, just one significant dynamic in the agriculture commodity-market is the use of corn as a source of ethanol. Other dynamics are found in the use of corn and corn by-products in the manufacture or production of animal feeds, fertilizers, glues, oils and pharmaceuticals. These forces, along with the need to feed an ever-expanding global population, have conspired to drive corn prices up, not down.
A far better way to make the intended argument would have been to say that despite a rising price for their product class, Guatemalan campesinos are still being driven from the market by the dynamics of economies of scale and the farm-insurance subsidies provided to corn producers in the United States. That, most certainly, is happening. Essentially, even at the higher price points, campesino-farmed corn is either not available for, or competitive in, the new markets. The result, however, is the same. Campesinos are losing market share and leaving their farms in what can still, in our opinion, be termed “a slow-motion diaspora.”
As to the protections supposedly in CAFTA, we feel there are several points to make. Mr. McGowan writes that the trade agreement has a schedule of graduated tariffs that remain on corn imported from the United States to Guatemala for between ten and fifteen years. This is true, but we find it to be an unconvincing argument for the protection of small farmers in this nation.
A thorough reading of the CAFTA annex referred to by Mr. McGowan and the realities of the market leads to a significantly different conclusion. In essence, the tariffs exist on paper, but have little effect on the real world. Yes, there is a graduated tariff on U.S. produced corn. As Mr. McGowan points out, the tariff on white corn runs for fifteen years and for yellow corn it runs for ten. But when we look at the exemption regulations, we see that, for example, in 2011, the combined exemptions allowed 677,400 metric tons of (white and yellow) corn to enter Guatemala completely duty free. Yet, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service, in that same year the United States exported 714,000 metric tons of (white and yellow) corn to Guatemala. In other words, only 36,600 metric tons (or 5.12 percent) of U.S. corn were subject to any tariff at all. All of that corn, however, the tariffed and the freely traded, was produced with the assistance of U.S. governmental subsidies as covered in Mr. Abbott’s original article.
This, we believe, leads to the heart of the matter. Mr. McGowan evinces faith in the governments that the negotiated this treaty. By our reading, he assumes that they are acting in the interest of the majority of citizens in their respective nations. We do not begrudge him that view. He well may be right. From the end, however, we believe that agreements like CAFTA are designed to serve the most powerful stakeholders in both societies at the expense of the less powerful. Said another way, we do not see the sophistry of the tariff schedules as an oversight in the system, but rather as a plan to create the illusion of fairness while the reality shows an economic model that favors the powerful over the weak, the wealthy over the poor.
It may be a dark view of politics in the Twenty First century, but both the original author and the editors believe it is justified by realities that are plainly visible, but often left out of policy analysis. In that view, CAFTA is an agreement in which the vast majority of power is held in the hands of self-serving corporate interests and corrupt politicians who do their bidding on the one hand, and Central American oligarchies on the other.
A MONSANTO MISUNDERSTANDING
Here we take issue with Mr. McGowan’s interpretation for several reasons. First, the original reporting does not argue that there will be a total loss of traditional seed stocks. At no point in either installment of the story does Mr. Abbott state how much traditional seed-stock loss there will be. Still, to clarify matters somewhat, we do believe that if the Monsanto Law is ultimately allowed to stand as required by Article 10 of CAFTA, the loss of that seed stock will be profound. There are several reasons for this and here we have a flat disagreement with Mr. McGowan’s interpretation of the law, its likely interpretation by international trade courts and the effects it will have on Guatemalan campesinos.
Mr. McGowan states that there is a provision in the Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties (a.k.a., The Monsanto Law) designed to protect local farmers’ use of their traditional seed corn. McGowan writes: “Article Fifteen explicitly states that the party to the agreement may ‘restrict the breeder’s right in relation to any variety in order to permit farmers to use for propagating purposes, on their own holdings, the product of the harvest which they have obtained by planting.’”
That provision is in the law, but Mr. McGowan neither fully quotes nor fully explains what it means. The statement reads that CAFTA member nations can “within reasonable limits and subject to the safeguarding of the legitimate interests of the breeder, restrict the breeder’s right in relation to any variety in order to permit farmers to use for propagating purposes, on their own holdings, the product of the harvest which they have obtained by planting, on their own holdings, the protected variety or other variety covered by the protection” [emphasis added].
Mr. McGowan suggests that passing the Protection of New Plant Varieties law with the optional protection clause for indigenous farmers “is a legitimate avenue for Guatemala and other Central American nations to exercise. Rejection of UPOV altogether is not.” For our part, we’re not comfortable with such an assertion, particularly after the first mass mobilization of Guatemalan society in decades to express the will of the people against CAFTA. Nor am we comfortable presuming that those individuals were subject to a disinformation campaign by the likes of La Cuadra Magazine. We will comment, however, on Mr. McGowan’s concluding line in this section wherein he claims that “. . . linking Monsanto to UPOV might be an effective tactic for opposing or even demonizing CAFTA, it is duplicitous at its core because its goal is to misinform.”
We may fail, at times, as a magazine, but it is never with the intention to misinform. Here, however, we do not believe there was a failure in the original reporting. We ask the reader to reconsider the full quote provided above. In our analysis it is materially significant that the first clause of the optional farmers’ protection opens the door to litigation over meaning in international trade courts. Who will determine what is a reasonable limit on the restriction of breeder’s rights? What are those legitimate interests? To expect, in any way, that a Guatemalan campesino — facing a devastating fine and potentially four years in prison for violating a law that an international agribusiness corporation will fight with a team of lawyers in order to establish as broad a definition as possible for their property rights — will stand much of a chance in court is, we believe, quite naïve, almost as naïve as believing that an aggressive corporation will simply overlook this lack of clarity in the law to be nice.
Further, the final clause of the exemption specifies that there will be protection offered to farmers specifically, and uniquely, for seeds from their own holdings then replanted on their own holdings. This limitation precludes any local sales or trades of traditional seed stock, a disruption in the local society and a provocative, unnecessary provision if the intent of the law is to actually protect indigenous farmers. Apparently, the citizens of Guatemala, tend to agree.
BENEFITS AND BEYOND
CAFTA has certainly increased trade between Guatemala and the United States and informed debate over these issues, by Guatemalans and by other citizens of the world, is crucial. There we find full accord with Mr. McGowan. Where we differ in our analysis, is in a faith that more trade, more business, more wealth exchanged between the businessmen of the Western Hemisphere is a benefit to the majority of citizens in either the developed or the developing worlds. One way to consider international trade agreements, such as CAFTA, is to view them as mutually beneficial accords made by elected, democratic governments with the intention of having a rising tide lift all boats. The other perspective suggests that deals are struck by captured governments who bow to the influence of wealthy, self-serving autocrats sitting atop business ventures of dubious social value. Time will tell which interpretation more closely tracks with reality. Until then, we look forward to engaging the arguments with our readers, authors and commentators.