Agriculturists explore Colorado-Mexico relations
April 14, 2006
by Becky Talley
Fence Post Staff Reporter
A crowd of hundreds came together at Denver’s Adam’s Mark Hotel to examine the future of the agriculture economy on Feb. 19. But this was no ordinary meeting of the minds. This time Colorado ag leaders invited our neighbors from the south to discuss not only interstate issues but international relations as well.
In the global economy that thrives on trade, The U.S. relies on other countries for many different products and markets. The state of Colorado is no different and has an especially strong tie to the country of Mexico through trade agreements and labor needs.
The 2002 Agriculture Outlook Forum, “Colorado-Mexico: Agricultural Trade, Labor and More,” looked in depth at Colorado’s relationship with Mexico not only economically but socially as well.
The idea for the forum came about as a result of a lot of hard work in order to bring these two separate, but intensely tied, agriculture areas together.
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According to David Carlson, resource analyst for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, about one month after a forum is over, ideas are batted around for the next year in order to find hot button issues in the agriculture sector.
A Time magazine article titled “Amexica,” outlining the United States-Mexico relationship planted the seed for the topic of this year’s forum. Then, at a reception for the Consul General de Mexico in Denver, Leticia Calzada, Carlson got a chance to solidify the idea, asking Calzada if she would be interested in helping put together the Colorado-Mexico Connection forum.
Calzada didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
The details were hammered out and the forum became a reality.
In an effort to address the variety of issues that the forum brought to the table, several experts from the United States and Mexico offered their insights.
Frank Lee, deputy administrator for the Commodity and Marketing Programs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Service, and Enrique Lobo, agriculture minister at the Embassy of Mexico in Washington D.C., talked about the effects of NAFTA and other trade agreements on the United States and Mexico.
“Our success in the agriculture sector is so tied directly to trade with other countries,” said Lee. “America’s farmers and ranchers ” not to mention Canadian and Mexican farmers ” have benefitted greatly from NAFTA.” He added that since NAFTA began imports have doubled from Mexico and tripled from Canada.
Lobo spoke on the NAFTA issue on behalf of Mexico, saying that NAFTA has given farmers and producers more experience and expertise in agriculture ” which in turn has given them a chance to improve the quality of their product and become better growers. NAFTA has also allowed several social improvements in the areas of housing, medical care, nutrition programs and environmental management.
“We are working a lot with the water issue and improving the soil,” Lobo said.
Both men, however, admitted that NAFTA does have areas in which it could stand to improve.
“Economic growth means change, NAFTA is a work in progress,” Lee said.
During the afternoon session the issues of immigration and labor were discussed by Philip Martin, professor of agriculture and resource economics at the University of California-Davis, and Jorge Bustamante, a Mexican sociologist and endowed chair at Notre Dame.
“A great share of Colorado’s work force in the agriculture sector is composed of Mexican migrant workers,” noted Consul General Calzada.
Forum participants were also offered the chance to break out into smaller sessions to further discuss trade issues, labor issues, energy problems and the globalization of the agricultural economy.
One such session, “U.S. and Mexico’s Small Scale Agriculture: Coping with Globalization,” gave attendees a chance to hear the pros and cons of international agriculture trade economics.
According to Jon Bailey, rural policy director for the Center of Rural Affairs, globalization has caused deterioration of small towns and small farms. He feels that many small farms have lost control of ag-related decisions by requiring them to sell the same product to the same people. The key to small farm survival is to allow differentiation of products.
“We should look at globalization as an opportunity to play on the strengths of the small farms,” said Bailey.
Consul General Calzada believes that globalization is a key for Mexico agriculture.
“Why can’t we imagine a future when Mexico, the U.S. and Canada come together and make one North American union,” she asked.
Overall the forum was a success and presented much needed information to attendees.
“We have a reduced or limited view of Mexico; we view it only as markets,” said Carlson.
However, as the forum sought to show, Mexico is much more. Its culture, including language, food and music, has become a part of American life ” as is especially evident in Colorado.
Carlson hopes that the relations between Colorado and Mexico continue. “Our hope isn’t just to have a one day talk. We are much more interested in having this forum to be a springboard.”