DOMINICAN REPUBLIC-CENTRAL AMERICA-UNITED STATES FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT
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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I first want to say thanks to my good friend from Minnesota for his kind comments. I am going to have more to say about him in a few minutes. The one thing we all find out in this great institution that we have the privilege of serving in is that everybody in their own way represents, in a very strong manner, the constituents who sent them here. Nobody has represented their constituents better over the last several weeks relative to this issue of CAFTA, and particularly the sugar issue, like NORM COLEMAN has.
Senator Coleman has been a true advocate for the interests of his State. They need to erect a big sugar beet for him and call it the Senator Coleman Memorial back in Minnesota.
I rise today to support the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement or DR-CAFTA. Earlier this year, I expressed opposition to DR-CAFTA since a provision in the agreement violates a part of the 2002 farm bill.
As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have a responsibility to the agricultural community to ensure Congress fulfills the commitments that we made to farmers and ranchers back in 2002 when we negotiated the farm bill and when it was passed by the House, by the Senate, and signed into law by the President.
My specific concern centered on a provision that severely impacts the implementation of the farm bill by increasing sugar imports into the United States.
We grow very little sugar in my State. This is not a parochial interest to me. Senator Coleman is right, perhaps I should have negotiated a peach, tobacco, or cotton ethanol provision in here. My whole point in this matter is that we have to maintain the integrity of the farm bill. It could just as easily have been a corn issue, wheat issue, or a peanut issue, but it just happened to be sugar. This could potentially result in exceeding the import trigger provided for in the farm bill.
Exceeding the import trigger is of utmost concern because it is designed to manage domestic supplies and ensure the program operates at a no net cost to the U.S. taxpayer. The DR-CAFTA could compromise that trigger when combined with existing commitments to Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
In addition, the so-called compensation mechanism in the DR-CAFTA does not provide any additional comfort.
I do not think it is a good idea to pay other countries not to import sugar into the United States when we can use those resources to promote fuel security here at home. I believe we all should be chastised back home if we let that happen.
There have been several long weeks of discussions between the administration, which included the White House, USDA and USTR officials, Senators and House Members, and industry representatives. After much hard work, the administration has agreed to a proposal that addresses my concerns relative to this trade agreement.
Secretary Johanns has sent me a letter that provides assurances that the sugar program will operate as we originally intended through the 2007 crop year. Furthermore, the Secretary committed to holding the sugar program harmless for the next 2 1/2 years, to the completion of this farm bill, from any harmful effects of CAFTA, of NAFTA, and of any other trade agreement that may be negotiated during the interim period.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent the Secretary's letter be printed in the RECORD.
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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Specifically, if the farm bill import trigger is exceeded and the domestic market does not need additional quantities, then the excess imported sugar, up to an amount equivalent to the DR-CAFTA imports, will be purchased by the Commodity Credit Corporation and made available for conversion into ethanol. Excess sugar above the trigger in the DR-CAFTA amount would be precluded entry by payment to exporters or preferably directed to other nonfood uses, such as additional ethanol production.
I think this is a very important development, since it is the first time the Department is committing itself to a sucrose-to-ethanol program. The Department will also conduct a feasibility study examining the economics of sucrose-based ethanol. The study will be completed and submitted to the Congress not later than July 1, 2006. This should be enough time for us to use the information contained in the study to develop a long-term future program for the sugar industry in the next farm bill.
On Tuesday of this week, we passed a very historic bill in this body. Our country has the greatest natural resources of any country in the world, but yet we have never established a long-term energy policy. For the first time in the history of the country we passed an Energy bill that will move us in the direction of becoming less dependent on foreign imports of oil for our petroleum and other fuel needs in this country. A major part of that Energy bill was a provision for alternative fuel resources like ethanol. In fact, there is a provision in there for the production of 8 billion gallons of ethanol per year in this country, which would be great if we could produce that amount and have it available all across America and not in the limited areas where it now is used.
The reason it is in limited areas today is because we simply do not have the production of organic-based material to provide ethanol all across America. But with this provision that has been negotiated as a part of this agreement with the Secretary and USTR, we are going to take another crop, sugar, and we are going to convert sugar into ethanol in much the same way that we convert corn into ethanol, so we can have a greater supply of an alternative fuel, other than gasoline, for use by the American consumer.
Under this agreement, the Secretary will have the ability to meet any changing domestic market conditions. If the amount of sugar provided by domestic growers, plus the minimum import requirement, is insufficient to meet the domestic market's needs and imports sufficient to do so will exceed the farm bill import trigger, then those imports will be allowed and no sugar would be diverted for conversion to ethanol.
Another important aspect of this agreement will ensure that the USDA will review all U.S. Customs, Bureau of Census, and other import data to monitor imports throughout any given year. Many of us have heard criticism with regard to past trade agreements about lax enforcement and implementation of their provisions to the detriment of our producers. This will help address those concerns.
In spite of the letter from Secretary Johanns and the assurances of the administration, the sugar industry opposes this agreement and will not support passage of this trade agreement. While I may disagree with their conclusions, that is their right. I want to say, at this time, that we have had a number of meetings between Members of the House, Members of the Senate, members of the industry--which have included USTR and other administration officials, including Secretary Johanns. We have had meetings with them and without them. At every single crossing, the sugar industry has negotiated in good faith and they have been very straightforward and above board with us. I commend those men.
It is a great country that we live in that will allow us to dialog over an issue that is so important, as is this, to those farmers, to the Members of the House, and the Members of the Senate, as well as to others who have a significant interest in this, and to come out at the end of the day with an agreement with which some of us agree but with which others still have the opportunity to disagree.
This agreement can be a real building block for sugar provisions in the next farm bill. Let me emphasize that my concerns have been fully satisfied, and I do plan to vote in favor of DR-CAFTA.
This trade agreement is also important to many people in my home State of Georgia. I have heard from many workers who will reap the benefits of increased trade with Central America and the Dominican Republic. Reducing trade barriers will not only enhance American economic growth but will greatly benefit businesses in Georgia as well, by allowing more Georgia-made products to be sold into Central America.
The DR-CAFTA region is an important trading partner with Georgia. Georgia's exports to the DR-CAFTA region increased $113 million from 2000 to 2004, and collectively the countries of DR-CAFTA were Georgia's 9th largest export destination.
According to the Department of Commerce, the DR-CAFTA will help Georgia's textile manufacturers, chemical and paper manufacturers, as well as Georgia's farmers, because DR-CAFTA provides U.S. suppliers with access to these markets and levels the playing field with other competitors.
Let me take a moment to praise the efforts of the Secretary Mike Johanns and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman for their hard work and their tireless efforts. These officials addressed each and every issue that we discussed. Without their good-faith efforts, this agreement simply would not have been possible.
Special note should also go to my good friend, Senator NORM COLEMAN. His leadership and hard work in this effort has only increased my enormous respect for him. We have worked very closely over the past couple of weeks helping lay the foundation for a long-term and profitable future for the U.S. sugar industry. He is a workhorse, and I want him on my side every time.
Let me conclude by saying I am very pleased with what we have crafted. This agreement will protect the sugar industry for the next 2 1/2 years, through the life of this current farm bill. It deserves the support of the Congress. I look forward to voting for DR-CAFTA.