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Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. HAGEL. Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. CAFTA will be one of the most important pieces of legislation considered by the Congress this year. Passage of CAFTA means increased markets for our agricultural products and manufactured goods to the nations of Central America--Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua--and the Dominican Republic. Already, 47,000 Nebraska jobs are supported by exports of farm products. CAFTA means more of these jobs across the United States.

Passing CAFTA will further open new markets for beef, corn, soybeans and other products by lowering and eliminating tariffs on U.S. goods in CAFTA countries. Currently, U.S. goods exported to CAFTA countries face significant tariffs. Despite these tariffs, the U.S. exports more than $15 billion to CAFTA countries every year. Nebraska exported over $19.5 million worth of goods to CAFTA countries in 2004, according to the Department of Commerce. With these tariffs eliminated, this region provides significant potential for States like Nebraska which depend on our ability to export our products. The Office of the United States Trade Representative views Central America as a larger market for U.S. products than India, Indonesia, and Russia combined.

All previous trade agreements have benefitted the United States economy. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1993, trade among NAFTA nations rose 150 percent. Nebraska's combined exports to Canada and Mexico have increased by more than 160 percent. In the first year of the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement, U.S. exports to Chile grew 33.5 percent.

There are those who have argued that there is a danger to the U.S. sugar industry if CAFTA is passed into law. They are worried about sugar from the Dominican Republic and Central America crowding out domestically produced U.S. sugar. These fears, while understandable, don't hold up against the facts. Under the current U.S. Farm Bill, Congress set an import ceiling of about 1.4 million metric tons of sugar. The domestic sugar program is unaffected when imports are below this limit. Currently, the U.S. is not close to exceeding that ceiling. According to the U.S. Trade Representative, in the first year of the agreement, increased access to the U.S. sugar market will be equal to little more than one day's sugar production in the United States.

CAFTA has stronger protections for workers than any other Free Trade Agreement. It has a three-part strategy that will ensure effective enforcement of domestic labor laws, establish a cooperative program to improve enforcement of domestic labor laws, and enhance the ability of Central American governments to monitor and enforce labor rights.

Trade is an opportunity, not a guarantee. CAFTA is supported by over 50 agricultural industry and farm groups, including the Nebraska Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Corn Growers.

Ultimately, the argument for CAFTA is not about numbers on a page or statistics, it is about American families and communities that need the opportunities provided by these markets to grow and remain competitive. CAFTA is good for the United States. I urge my colleagues to vote for this trade agreement.

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