Thursday, June 23, 2005

CAFTA pressure mounting in US Congress

It appears likely that the final showdown over CAFTA in the US Congress will occur very shortly. On June 23, the White House finally submitted the treaty to Congress. Submitting the treaty requires action within 90 business days, but the vote could come as early as next week.

The Washington Post runs a story on the political maneuvering, pressure, vote trading and negotiating occurring in the halls of Congress as the Bush administration tries to eke out a victory. According to the AP, the administration has made assurances that it will take strong measures to protect the US sugar industry from competition from Central America:

In meetings this week on Capitol Hill, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns promised to use his authority to keep Central American sugar off the U.S. market.

"I've talked about an idea that literally says, `Look, in the powers I have today, which I will commit to using, we could hold sugar harmless,'" Johanns told reporters Thursday....

Johanns said, "I can guarantee that sugar is not going to be impacted by the CAFTA agreement during the life of the farm bill...."

Under the agreement, the government can pay CAFTA countries not to ship sugar to the U.S. Johanns already has authority to buy excess sugar from CAFTA countries to use for things other than food, such as sugar-based ethanol fuel. He can also give away other U.S. crops to CAFTA countries that agree not to ship sugar to the United States.
Somehow "free trade" sounds different when you hear statements like that. If I were a Central American sugar farmer, able to produce sugar at a lower cost than the US, I would wonder why I can't sell my sugar to the US, but subsidized US corn farmers can send their cheap corn to compete with my neighbor on his small finca.

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