It was an embarrassing moment for the White House and its free trade acolytes.
There, hat-in-hand before the agriculture commissioners, secretaries and directors of each state and four U.S. territories at the midyear meeting of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, was Allen Johnson, the lead ag negotiator from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Johnson’s request to the NASDA gathering Feb. 21 was plaintive: Please, don’t do this; please don’t go on the record in opposition of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA.
In the end, Johnson, whom the White House had called back from vacation to address the group, got half a loaf.
Defeat. Convening as a general assembly, the state ag chiefs narrowly defeated consideration of a committee recommendation to oppose CAFTA.
But the whisker-thin win for Johnson did not cancel the unanimous vote (three of its 23 members abstained) two days earlier by NASDA’s Marketing and International Trade Committee to oppose CAFTA.
Johnson urged the group to keep that split with the White House quiet.
Fat chance. The vote sent shockwaves through the usually pro-trade NASDA