Supporters of the Central American Free Trade Agreement are launching a major, nationwide advocacy effort over Congress' Memorial Day recess. Advocates of the trade pact, including Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns and House Agriculture Committee Bob Goodlatte, hosted another rally on Wednesday.
Leaders on Capitol Hill are expected to vote on the agreement early this summer. Most members of Congress will be in their home states next week for recess, and supporters are calling for producers across the nation to rally in their home states in support of CAFTA-DR.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Goodlatte his support for the trade pact and as an effort to move the approval process along. In addition he is working to encourage his House colleagues and members of the agriculture committee to support and vote for CAFTA-DR.
The CAFTA-DR agreement is good for U.S. agriculture, explains American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, saying it would yield nearly $1.5 billion in agricultural exports to the CAFTA-DR region, providing significant opportunities for U.S. farmers and ranchers.
"When you look at the aggregate, CAFTA-DR is a net positive for agriculture," adds Stallman. "The agreement will generate millions of dollars annually by eliminating tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods." Tariffs on almost all U.S. products exported to CAFTA-DR nations will decrease to zero percent after full implementation. Otherwise, U.S. agriculture products entering the region without the agreement could be subject to up to 60% tariffs.
In addition, the Agriculture Coalition for CAFTA-DR sent a letter to every member of Congress urging support for the free trade agreement with five of the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. In the letter, 69 members of the Coalition, which is comprised of agriculture and food industry organizations, expressed concern that efforts by the U.S. sugar industry to obtain a full exclusion from the agreement will result in a weakened trade agenda in the future. Additional access for CAFTA-DR sugar exports under the agreement is less than 1.5% of total U.S. sugar supplies.
Acknowledging the struggle with the sugar industry, Stallman says, "Congress must put first the interests of the overwhelming majority of America's farmers and ranchers, who would benefit above the minor impact to be felt by the U.S. sugar industry. The CAFTA-DR provides protections for the sugar industry that no other sector will receive. To allow this agreement to fail because of one industry will be at the loss to the rest of America's farmers and ranchers."
The Goodlatte press conference followed an executive session with members of the Agriculture Committee, Johanns and Ambassador Rob Portman to discuss CAFTA among other items on the agenda.