DENVER—Rocky Mountain Farmers Union’s (RMFU) Board of Directors meeting here today, unanimously voted to publicly express their disappointment with the U.S. House’s 217-215 passage July 27 of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The measure narrowly passed last month in the U.S. Senate.
“U.S. producers have much more stringent and expensive labor and environmental stipulations with which they must comply than producers in Central America. It is impossible to ‘level the playing field’ on two products that are produced very differently,” said John Stencel, RMFU president.
Once signed into law, CAFTA will eliminate duties immediately on 80 percent of U.S. exports to Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, which proponents of the legislation touted as economic development. However, most acknowledge that U.S. agricultural exports to these countries are relatively small. However, imports of sugar, beef and other commodities from these countries with reduced or eliminated import duties will render them cheaper than U.S. produced commodities. “CAFTA will be immediately harmful to certain sectors of U.S. agriculture, but more importantly, it sets a horrible precedence for future trade agreements,” said RMFU Board Chair Jan Kochis, Matheson, Colo. “Policies like this make it increasingly difficult for independent agricultural producers to survive, which is pushing us as a society to be more and more dependent on imported food.”
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Bureau of Census data published August 16, 2004, the U.S. agricultural balance of trade has fallen from a surplus of $24.7 billion in 1995 to a surplus of just $10.5 billion in 2003. This represents a 62 percent drop in the balance of trade in just eight years. USDA is forecasting that for the first time in decades, the United States will in 2005 become a net importer of its food.
“Despite CAFTA being a relatively small trade pact from an overall economic point-of-view, it was—by far—the most hotly contested trade agreement ever,” said RMFU Vice President Paul Stout, Broadview, N.M. “Now that the measure has passed, RMFU will hold those who voted for it responsible to ensure that it is implemented as promised.”
“Producers and workers have become increasingly skeptical of promises made by those pushing for enactment of trade agreements,” said RMFU Board Director Ken Macy, Pine Bluffs, Wyo. “We have repeatedly been told that economic prosperity is just around the corner, yet farm incomes continue to decline. RMFU thanks representatives who stood firm and supported agricultural producers by voting against this legislation.”
Voting against CAFTA were Reps. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., Diana DeGette, D-Colo., John Salazar, D-Colo., Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., Mark Udall, D-Colo., Thomas Udall, D-N.M. Those voting for CAFTA included Reps. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., Joel Hefley, R-Colo., Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and Heather Wilson, R-N.M.