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

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. HULSHOF. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement, DR-CAFTA, as it will level the playing field for American manufacturers and farmers. The six DR-CAFTA countries, which include the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras, have had preferential access to U.S. markets for approximately 20 years as a result of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, CBI, and the Generalized System of Preferences, GSP, program. Consequently, DR-CAFTA countries have enjoyed a ``one-way street'' of market access where by 80 percent of goods and almost 99 percent of agricultural products enter duty free. Conversely, American exporters have faced tariffs on almost all of the goods exported to the region.

It is vital to my home State of Missouri that we continue to expand and open new markets for American farm products. In 2003, 25 percent of Missouri's $5 billion farm cash receipts were attributable to foreign trade. Half of all soybeans and 1 in 5 rows of corn grown in Missouri are destined for foreign markets. Absent DR-CAFTA, American farm exports will continue being subject to tariffs ranging from 35 percent to 60 percent. This puts our farmers and ranchers at a significant competitive disadvantage with our international competitors in these growing markets. It would be foolish to turn our backs on an agreement that removes these sort of punitive barriers to our products. If we pass DR-CAFTA, we will open the doors to six countries where the potential U.S. gain for all agricultural exports is expected to reach $1.5 billion. Put another way, this would mean a near doubling of the U.S. agricultural sales to the region when compared to 2003 levels.

It is for this reason that DR-CAFTA enjoys the strong support of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the USA Rice Federation, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Milk Producers Federation, just to name a few. To borrow from Farm Bureau, a vote for DR-CAFTA is a vote for agriculture.

There are many critics who erroneously believe that by ratifying DR-CAFTA, the United States is relinquishing our national sovereignty and opening our borders to floods of immigrants. On the contrary, nothing in the DR-CAFTA will preempt the Constitution, current U.S. laws and our sovereignty. Should a contradiction arise between the terms of DR-CAFTA and U.S. law, the U.S. will maintain its right to change domestic laws as it sees fit.

Moreover, enactment of DR-CAFTA will have no effect on current immigration laws. Congress will maintain its role in crafting U.S. immigration policy. And in fact, DR-CAFTA will help reduce illegal immigration. As the economic opportunities that accompany free market reforms take a stronger hold in Central America, residents of these nations will have a stake in their future and a strong fiscal incentive to remain in their native country.

DR-CAFTA is in our national security interests. Our foreign policy must promote stability and prosperity in Central America. As we saw in the 1980's, instability can give nations who do not share our interests an opportunity to expand their influence in our hemisphere. To promote stability, we should reward democracies that respect human rights and encourage free market economic principles. DR-CAFTA is consistent with this goal. As these evolving democracies continue to grow, we will see their economic viability strengthened, thereby creating jobs and reducing poverty.

Some have expressed concern that DR-CAFTA will weaken labor laws, leaving workers in this region without basic protections. This is simply not true. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has reviewed the labor laws and practices of the six DR-CAFTA countries and found them largely in compliance with the ILO's eight core conventions. With the exception of El Salvador--which has ratified six--every other nation covered by DR-CAFTA has enacted the eight core conventions. In fact, if you look at the labor provisions of other recently enacted free trade agreements, such as the Jordan and Morocco agreements, you will find that the DR-CAFTA labor provisions are more stringent and ensure greater protections for workers.

Over 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside our borders, and it is in our best interests to pursue a policy that opens these markets to American products. If we fail, we forfeit these markets--both from an economic and national security standpoint--to our international competitors in Asia and Europe.

DR-CAFTA will level the playing field for American farmers and manufacturers and help address an important national security goal. This is a win-win situation. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this vital agreement.

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