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CAFTA, focus of Washington, D.C. lobbying

DENVER– Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) and the Colorado Sugarbeet Growers Association traveled to Washington, D.C., March 14-16, to ask members of the U.S. Congress not to pass the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The grassroots lobbying event was organized by the National Farmers Union and included RMFU representatives Ben Way, executive director, and Marvin Schmidt, a Wyoming sheep feeder, as well as Paul Schlagel, Longmont, Colo., a sugarbeet producer.

“The small gains in terms of market access and tariff reductions that would benefit U.S. agricultural producers is minor compared with what we would have to give away, particularly in the areas of sugar, fruits & vegetables and ethanol,” said Way. “The other compelling argument against CAFTA is the performance of the North American Free Trade Agreement ratified in 1993. Instead of opening up opportunities for producers as promised, it has driven small-scale Mexican farmers out of business and reduced U.S. agriculture exports.” The group felt some congressional offices are rethinking their positions after they pointed out some of the more obscure aspects of CAFTA, such as a dispute resolution process that would allow corporations to sue the government, e.g., if its profits are damaged due to local environmental regulations.

“I think we made some progress with lawmakers that CAFTA will hurt rather than help U.S. family farmers and ranchers,” Way said.

The group also urged lawmakers to re-establish U.S. beef trade with Japan, Korea, and other nations suspending them following the discovery of a BSE-infected cow of Canadian origins prior to opening the U.S.-Canadian border to beef imports.

The third and final topic discussed by the grassroots lobbyists was the 2006 federal agriculture budget. In February, President George Bush unveiled a proposed 2006 budget that has 25 percent of total budget cuts, or $2.8 billion, to be taken from the agriculture budget, which makes up only 1 percent of the overall federal budget. Following the fly-in, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., on Thursday proposed an amendment not to cut the agriculture budget. The measure failed by a vote of 46-54.

“The current farm bill has been instrumental in providing a safety net for farmers and ranchers and has even come in under budget. We urged members of Congress not to go back on this legislation,” Way said.