May 12, 2005

May 12, 2005

A lot of questions are debated in this town. And often the right side of the issue is not so obvious. Well, in the next few weeks, Congress will be debating and voting on approval of CAFTA, a trade agreement with the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. In this case -- at least from Agriculture's point-of-view, it is as Illinois Farm Bureau President, Phil Nelson, put it, "a no brainer."

According to Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns, with an agreement "we are likely to double U.S. exports to those countries." I'm already sold, but there is more. Yes, our exports wou ld double from $1.6 billion to over $3 billion. Keep in mind, they already have 99% free access to our market as a result of the (CBI) Caribbean Basin Initiative. They already can sell to us. It's only fair that we should be able to sell to them. But, unless we get this agreement passed, corn will continue to experience duties as high as 35%, soybean as high as 20%, beef, pork, cotton -- all being hit by duties.

The overwhelming advantage of this agreement to American farmers and ranchers is obvious. You ask if it is so obvious, where is the opposition coming from? You won't be surprised to find the usual whining suspects. Labor unions are always fighting trade deals. Don't expect any help from the environmentalists either. Unfortunately, the agreement faces a challenge from some of our own -- the sugar growers. They should be realistic. The fact is the agreement allows only a tiny increase in sugar imports. I said tiny -- one teaspoon per week, per person. One teaspoon! That is less than 1.2% of total U.S. sugar production.

How much protection do they expect? As farmers and ranchers, we export almost 30% of our production. We don't have any choice but to open markets and negotiate trade deals. So let's get it done.

Until next week, I am John Block from Washington.