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State ag directors whack CAFTA, White House

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Well-known member
Feb 13, 2005
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> State ag directors whack CAFTA, White House
> > It was an embarrassing moment for the White House and its free trade
> acolytes.
> There, hat-in-hand before the agriculture commissioners, secretaries
> and directors of each state and four U.S. territories at the midyear
> of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, was Allen
> Johnson, the lead ag negotiator from the Office of the U.S. Trade
> Representative.
> Johnson's request to the NASDA gathering Feb. 21 was plaintive:
> Please, don't do this; please don't go on the record in opposition of the
> Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA.
> In the end, Johnson, whom the White House had called back from
> vacation to address the group, got a half a loaf. Convening as a general
> assembly, the state ag chiefs narrowly defeated consideration of a
> recommendation to oppose CAFTA.
> But the whisker-thin win for Johnson did not cancel the unanimous
> vote (three of its 23 members abstained) two days earlier by NASDA's
> Marketing and International Trade Committee to oppose CAFTA.
> Johnson urged the group to keep that split with the White House quiet.
> Fat chance. The vote sent shockwaves through the usually pro-trade
> NASDA whose members literally know the lay of the food and farm land in
> their home states. That's their job; looking farmers and ranchers in the
> everyday.
> On Feb. 19, though, almost half of them looked in the mirror and
> said, "My producers are right; CAFTA is wrong." Moments later, the White
> House fire bell rang.
> There are many reasons why CAFTA, the 2004 trade treaty between the
> U.S., El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican
> that awaits a vote in Congress, is wrong, says Delaware Secretary of
> Agriculture Michael Scuse.
> "My view of the Feb. 19 vote," explains Scuse, who is vice chairman
> of the NASDA committee that dinged the treaty, "is that we're more
> about how CAFTA affects farmers than how it affects trade."
> For example, he says, ag chiefs from coastal states worry about crop
> pests hitchhiking into the U.S. on food from Central American.
> Others say CAFTA's sugar imports will open the door to bigger sugar
> in future treaties.
> "But my big problem with it," Scuse notes, "is that CAFTA countries
> get access to U.S. food markets now and our access to theirs is phased in
> over 10, 15 and 20 years. For instance, their poultry tariffs won't be
> lifted for 17 to 20 years. That doesn't look like fair trade to poultry
> growers."
> His point is even sharper if U.S. farmers view the trade pact as the
> White House views it: CAFTA is a small but necessary stepping stone to
> bigger trade bridges like the hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the
> Americas and Doha's worldwide ag deal.
> The trouble with that trade double-shot, however, is that if future
> treaties follow CAFTA--U.S. domestic markets first; U.S. foreign markets
> years later--nations like Brazil, Russia and India will become food
> exporting powerhouses to both the U.S. and the world while American
> become calendar watchers.
> Truth is, we already are. As former Secretary of Agriculture Ann
> Veneman loved to remind anyone who would listen, the U.S. has the lowest
> import trade tariffs in the world, 12 percent, yet faces the highest ag
> import tariffs, 60 percent, around the world.
> Veneman, however, never revealed the reason behind that
> disparity--we disarmed. We agreed to lower our tariffs; they never did.
> More importantly, says Scuse, deals like CAFTA institutionalize the
> disparities for years and decades to come. "Short-term there won't be any
> benefits in CAFTA for our farmers. At least none that I see."
> Indeed, he adds, the NASDA vote wasn't about CAFTA.
> "The point was to send a message," says Scuse. "That message is, 'I
> work for farmers who risk everything everyday... and I don't believe
> getting a fair deal in deals like this.'"
> Trade rep Johnson heard it Feb 21, but he asked NASDA to keep it
> quiet--perhaps because he knows the White House does trade deals about as
> well as it does budgets.
> Nothing in 'em adds up.


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