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Central American Free Trade Agreement

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. LANDRIEU. Mr. President, I rise to speak a moment about why I am strongly opposed to the Dominican Republic/Central American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill, or CAFTA it is often referred to. CAFTA threatens a proud heritage and a way of life in Louisiana that dates back more than 250 years. Our great-great-great grandfathers were raising cane long before our country was even born. Since 1751, Louisiana sugar cane farmers have been farming the fertile soil of our great State. Before the marble Walls of Congress were ever erected, Louisianans built an industry that would weather hurricanes, the Great Depression and even the Civil War.

These farmers have good reason to be proud. American sugar producers are among the most efficient in the world. Two-thirds of the world's more than 100 sugar-producing countries produce at a higher cost than the U.S. And in my State of Louisiana, farmers produce about 20 percent of the sugar grown in the United States and currently rank fourth in the Nation in production of sugar, producing an average revenue of $750 million per year.

But today, we are prepared to deal this proud industry a death blow. We are talking about undoing centuries of tradition and stripping away jobs from efficient Louisiana farmers. As passed, this trade agreement would have a serious and harmful effect on sugar producers in my State: CAFTA will equal job loss and financial despair for 27,000 Louisiana sugar workers and farmers. Along with additional bilateral trade agreements, CAFTA could cost my State $750 million in direct sugar sales, as well as $2 billion in industry-related revenue each year.

In any trade negotiation, there are losses and there are wins. Oftentimes we are willing to accept the impacts these deals might have on our domestic producers because in the long run the good outweighs the bad. But that is not the case. CAFTA is a relatively small trade deal with a group of countries whose combined economies are smaller than that of New Haven, CT. Nearly half of all Central Americans earn less than $2 a day, and they simply cannot afford the meats or crops we have to sell. That is why the Louisiana Farm Bureau has joined other State farm bureaus, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and numerous national farm groups in opposing CAFTA. Even our own Government's economic estimates say that CAFTA will mean little to agriculture or to our country as a whole; and these are known to be quite optimistic estimates. That is because as the administration points out time and time again--we already dominate the import market of this poor region.

According to estimates by the U.S. International Trade Commission, CAFTA would actually increase our trade deficit with Central America while benefiting our economy by less than one-hundredth of 1 percent. That is worth repeating again. The administration's economists say that CAFTA will increase our trade deficit with the region while boosting our own economy by less than 0.01 percent.

This same study concluded that for other farmers CAFTA would have ``a negligible impact on total U.S. production and employment.'' Why then are we talking about dismantling my State's sugar industry? U.S. farmers and ranchers get little in return for sending thousands to the ranks of the unemployed.

So what we have here is another raw deal for Louisiana sugar. I urge my colleagues to take a long, hard look at our country's current agricultural trade agenda. This year, the USDA says America will import as much food as we export. The agricultural trade surplus that stood at $27 billion less than 10 years ago is now gone. The promises made to farmers during the NAFTA debates have come up flat. And the promises that will be made today about CAFTA are contradicted by the administration's own estimates.

In closing, let me say I support free trade, so long as it is fair. Fair free trade requires that all players operate on as equal and level a playing field as possible, accountable to the same labor laws, environmental standards, and governmental intervention. To sacrifice even one job for a trade deal that will deepen our agricultural trade deficit is a travesty. And, having to tell thousands of hard-working farmers in Louisiana that they must look for work, because sugar was used as a bargaining chip, is unacceptable.


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