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Public Statements

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

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


DOMINICAN REPUBLIC-CENTRAL AMERICA-UNITED STATES FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT -- (Senate - June 30, 2005)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I spent the last few minutes listening to my colleague from North Dakota discuss a very important issue for our country. While he and I have come to the same conclusion as to how we are going to vote on this issue, we have come from different points of view to arrive at I believe a similar conclusion.

Mr. DORGAN. Might I inquire of the Senator from Idaho, my intention was to yield 10 minutes to the Senator from Idaho off our time. Is that the Senator's intention as well?

Mr. CRAIG. I would ask that be done, if that is necessary. Ten minutes is clearly adequate. I need no longer than that.

Mr. DORGAN. I yield 10 minutes to the Senator from Idaho.

Mr. CRAIG. Since Congress gave the President fast-track trade negotiating authority in August of 2002, we have had to face the reality that comes with it. I supported giving the President that authority because clearly the executive branch is the branch that negotiates trade agreements.

But while giving him that authority, I said that I would look at each trade agreement and study it thoroughly to determine whether I believed it was in the best interests of our country to approve it, and, as important, in the best interests of my State of Idaho. Three agreements have been reached and Congress has dealt with all three of them. I have voted for two of those three.

The administration has been actively pursuing a vigorous bilateral and free-trade agenda around the world, and I believe it is in the best interests of our country, both economically and socially, to trade where we can, when we can, as long as it is fair and balanced and it recognizes all of the tradeoffs involved.

Trade with foreign nations is a valuable component to promoting economic opportunities at home. This is not a one-sided economic playing field. If we were to produce only that which America consumed, then, working America, half of you go home. It is clearly in our best interests to trade and we know that.

At the same time, we should not be trading off one segment of our economy against another. Trade agreements ought to be there to promote general economic growth in our country. Certainly it ought to be able to promote economic growth around the world. But in the end, when that trade agreement is struck and implemented, we ought to be able to say it serves all of America well.

Congress is now debating, as we speak, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, otherwise known as CAFTA. I became involved with our trade negotiators as the President and our then-Trade Representative, Bob Zoellick, began negotiating with CAFTA nations. As an agricultural State, Idaho has a large stake in these agreements, and agriculture right now is currently learning how to restructure itself in our global markets to remain highly competitive, to supply not only food and fiber to America but to consumers around the world.

As many know, a major agricultural crop in my State is sugar. Idaho is the second largest producer of sugar beets, behind Minnesota, in the United States. Idaho's sugar industry employs somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 to 8,000 people and generates nearly $800 million in economic activities in my State. The sugar industry of Idaho and in most other sugar-producing States has had to restructure itself in the last several years because of the unprofitability of it. Farmers have pooled their money, they have created cooperative processing plants to market their sugar, and so inherently have developed large personal investments in all levels of the production of sugar.

It is well known that the world sugar market is one of the most distorted agricultural markets in the world and that most world sugar supplies are simply dumped on the markets at prices well below the cost of production. As the Senator from North Dakota was showing a few moments ago, some of that production is done at the lowest of costs and at a tremendous cost to human capital. U.S. producers already face an oversupply situation, with significant quantities in storage at the expense of the producer. Prices have slowly declined. Yet production costs in the United States have skyrocketed.

Although the United States is the fourth largest importer of sugar in the world--no, we have not shut the world out, we are a very large importer of sugar--CAFTA seeks to significantly compound an already ugly situation and set a ``precedent of no return'' for further negotiations already underway with major sugar-exporting countries such as Thailand and Panama. In other words, this is not the last bilateral agreement this Senate will see before it that deals with the issue of sugar.

CAFTA nations already enjoy duty-free quota access for sugar with the United States. I am not prepared to trade away an industry so vital to my State to the overall well-being of some other country's sugar industry.

Other Idaho agricultural groups understand that those farmers who are sugar producers also are potato producers and bean producers and grain producers. We are not just talking about impacting one commodity. We are talking about impacting a lot of commodities. If Idaho were to lose the acreage that it now commits to sugar, it would have to grow something else. It would put pressure on other commodities.

We have sought and have obtained a relatively well balanced economy in agriculture. In my opinion, CAFTA will distort that. Our U.S. negotiators are willing to open our markets to increased sugar imports while other competitors maintain unfair economic advantages in domestic subsidies and minimal market access commitments.

Myself, along with my colleagues from sugar-producing States, took our concern with CAFTA to the administration. With the help of my good friend and chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Chambliss, we met late into the night with our trade ambassador, Rob Portman, and with the Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary Johanns. I must say in all fairness to them they not only listened but finally, after well over a year and a half of me saying ``don't go there'' and then when they did, saying ``come work with us,'' they finally fully began to engage.

They brought forth a proposal that, in my opinion, was not all bad. At the same time, it modified the 2002 farm bill, in large part, and it committed U.S. money to a program to save, if you will, or maintain, if you will, that we had told our Senators on the floor was going to have no net cost to the American taxpayer.

As a result, while I thought it was a significantly improved proposal, the sugar industry of this country looked at it and looked at what they felt was a very weakened position because of CAFTA and because of NAFTA and because of what was happening in Mexico now and because of a position they would be placed in the 2007 farm bill negotiations, and they simply had to say no.

Trade agreements ought not to be trading one industry off against another. These trade agreements ought not to have to come to Idaho and any other State and say: We have weakened the capacity of your State, or the agricultural industry of your State in this instance, to be competitive and to produce and to sustain ourself and your livelihood.

It is for all of these reasons that I will be voting against CAFTA. However, I applaud this administration for their diligent and willing work with us on this issue. In the final hours, they tried. The problem is, they didn't try a year ago, or 2 years ago, when this issue was being negotiated. More than once I sat down with Ambassador Zoellick and said: Don't touch sugar. It has a very static market today. It is in a highly competitive market. And it will be most difficult for that industry to sustain itself, let alone sustain itself in a diminishing market environment.

They didn't listen. We have CAFTA. Anybody can waive two little packets of sugar around and say that is all it is about.

But what about the Colombian agreement? What about the Thailand agreement? What about the Panamanian agreement? What about the South African agreement? All are sugar-producing nations. All are ready to sit down and negotiate and ask for a piece of the U.S. sugar market. That is why the producers in Idaho and around the Nation, when provided this last moment agreement, simply had to say no.

They are placed, by this agreement, in a most difficult situation. As a result, in my support of them, I will oppose.

Again, trade agreements ought not be about trading one segment of our economy off against another, trading winners and losers, and therefore creating an environment that pits one head to head with another. That is unfair. Our Government ought not be doing that.

While there are many benefits to be gained by CAFTA, there are winners and losers. I believe the sugar producers of this Nation become losers. I have to vote no.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the Central America Free Trade Agreement, its importance to our country, to our economic interests both here and at home, and around the world.

Since Congress gave the President fast-track trade negotiating authority in August of 2002, we've had to face the realities that come with it.

I supported giving the President fast-track authority then, with the caveat that I would approach all trade agreements sent to Congress with an open mind.

Three agreements have reached Congress since 2002 and I have voted for two of those three.

The administration has been actively pursuing a vigorous bilateral and free-trade agenda around the world, and I believe it is in our best interest to do so both economically and socially.

Trade with foreign nations is a valuable component to promote economic opportunities here at home, but also to spread our democratic ideals that we value so highly in our country.

Congress is now debating the Central American Free Trade Agreement, otherwise known as CAFTA. I became heavily involved with our trade negotiators as the President and our then-Trade Representative Bob Zoellick began negotiations with the CAFTA nations.

As an agricultural State, Idaho has a large stake in these agreements and agriculture right now is currently learning how to restructure itself as our global markets become highly integrated.

As many know, a major agricultural crop in my State is the production of sugar. Idaho is the second-largest producer of sugarbeets behind Minnesota.

Idaho's sugar industry employs somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 to 8,000 people and generates nearly $800 million in economic activity for the State economy.

The sugar industry in Idaho, and in most other sugar-producing States, has restructured itself after several years of unprofitability. Farmers pooled their money to create cooperative processing plants to market their sugar and so inherently have a large personal investment in all levels of production.

It's well known that the world sugar market is one of the most distorted agricultural markets in the world, and most world sugar supplies are simply dumped on the market at prices well below the cost of production.

U.S. producers already face an oversupply situation with significant quantities in storage at the expense of producers. Prices have slowly declined, yet production costs have sky-rocketed.

Although the U.S. is the 4th largest importer of sugar in the world, CAFTA seeks to significantly compound an already ugly situation and set a precedent of ``no return'' for further negotiations already underway with major sugar-exporting countries like Thailand and Panama.

CAFTA nations already enjoy duty-free quota access for sugar with the U.S., and I am not prepared to trade away an industry so vital to my State and to the overall farm economy in Idaho.

Other Idaho agricultural groups understand that those farmers who are sugar producers are also potato, bean, and grain producers. We're not just talking about impacting one commodity, we are cutting a wide swath across several industries and sending an economic ripple through our rural communities that may not be recoverable.

Our U.S. negotiators are willing to open our markets to increased sugar imports, while our competitors maintain unfair economic advantages in domestic subsidies and minimal market access commitments.

Myself along with my colleagues from sugar-producing States took our concerns with CAFTA to the administration. With the help of my good friend and Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Senator Chambliss, we spent some late nights and several conference calls to come up with a solution that would allow could address the concerns of the sugar industry.

Our new U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns joined us in trying to iron out the differences and find some mutually agreeable options. I am very impressed with these two men's willingness to roll up their sleeves and work with me and others on what has been a very difficult issue.

Although these discussions should have occurred much earlier, the administration came a very long way in a short amount of time to reach a resolution.

A proposal was offered to maintain the sugar program as passed in the 2002 Farm Bill and to provide the industry with relief from surges of imported, cheap foreign sugar by studying and beginning to establish a sugar-to-ethanol program in the U.S.

I think this proposal represents a strong effort of compromise in a complex and difficult environment. I would like to praise Secretary Johanns and Ambassador Portman for their willingness to make this quantum leap to accommodate our concerns. I think the proposal brings some good ideas to the table that we can build upon.

I understand that Secretary Johanns has sent the proposal in writing to Congress to affirm his commitment to the agreement. I will be working with Chairman Chambliss on a Sense of the Senate to solidify this proposal and strengthen the promise made to the industry.

The only fault of this proposal is that it does not provide the long-term solution that the industry desperately needs. I also have major concerns that the proposal compromises the law by changing our sugar program from that of operating at ``no-cost'' to the taxpayer to one that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This is just not sustainable and a major departure from our promise to the industry.

I know I share the same strong concerns with Chairman Chambliss that free trade agreements should remain faithful to current U.S. policy and not restrict options available to Congress in future farm bills.

For these reasons, I will be voting against CAFTA. However, I do applaud the administration for their diligence and willingness to work with me on this issue. I hope that as we near the next Farm Bill in 2007, we will continue to work on a sustainable answer that maintains a very important industry in my State but also the agricultural economy in the U.S.

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