Talking the truth about trade

You know you’re far off the reality map when the American Farm Bureau’s former president, Iowan Dean Kleckner, publicly praises the Humane Society of the United States for its support of Central American Free Trade Agreement.
Yet there was Kleckner, chairman of trade-touting, biotech-boosting Truth about Trade, kissing Patricia Forkan, the executive vice president of the humane society, in a May 13 press release for having the “courage” to support CAFTA despite the near-certainty of being “accused of heresy by the Torquemadas of a Green Inquisition.”
Torquemadas of a Green Inquisition?
Whoa, we’re a long way from Iowa – and truth – now.
Blasting. Forlornly, Forkan never felt Kleckner’s love.
Five days after the Big Ag’s favorite front man made a play for Forkan’s green heart, her group blasted the upcoming weekly public television series America’s Heartland as a likely “monumental whitewash” that “will only mislead viewers about the nature of American agriculture.”
The “whitewash’s” chief underwriters?
Kleckner’s beloved American Farm Bureau and Truth about Trade’s main mistress Monsanto.
Slugfest. The lovefest-turned-slugfest is a common, colorful thread to run through the CAFTA quilt now that congressional committees have taken up hearings to prepare for a hoped-for July vote on the controversial pact.
On Tuesday, June 7, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns spent only an hour in the CAFTA hot seat at the Senate Ag Committee hearing before skedaddling.
Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton called Johanns’ quick departure a “disservice” to committee members from sugar-producing states who had questions for the secretary.
Johanns’ departure (he turned USDA’s defense of CAFTA over to two unbiased trade subordinates: ag’s main man at the U.S. trade rep’s office, Allen Johnson, and USDA’s main link to multinational grain traders, Undersecretary J.B. Penn) is just the latest example of CAFTA boosters avoiding CAFTA facts and CAFTA fire.
For instance, while the White House and Johanns’ claim CAFTA will boost trade between the U.S. and the deal’s six Latin American nations, an August 2004 analysis by the U.S. International Trade Commission shows the U.S. trade deficit with the CAFTA countries actually growing from about $2.2 billion in 2003 to $2.4 billion when implemented.
Truthful forecast? The analysis also notes that the American Farm Bureau’s estimate of $1.5 billion in increased ag exports to CAFTA countries is nearly five-times greater than the commission’s more truthful forecast: just $328 million.
But even that modest news is less so because while “exports of corn and rice … are likely to increase substantially,” estimates the International Trade Commission, the overall impact will be “negligible on total U.S. production and employment.”
Indeed, according to the commission, “After full phase-in of tariff elimination,” – a 15- to 20-year period for many ag products – U.S. exports to CAFTA countries “as a whole would increase by $2.7 billion” while U.S. imports “as a whole would increase by $2.8 billion.”
Sugar. And then there’s the big CAFTA bomb, sugar.
Under the deal, the CAFTA nations will send an additional 109,000 metric tons of duty-free sugar, into the U.S. immediately.
That amount will rise slowly to 153,147 metric tons in 15 years then increase by 2,000 metric tons annually “in perpetuity.”
USDA says the increased sugar imports amount to less than a “teaspoon and a half per week per American” or “little more than one day’s production in the United States.”
That tiny amount is nothing in the grand and great scheme of free trade, Johanns insists.
The alliance’s take. Maybe not now, says the American Sugar Alliance, but the CAFTA-6 sugar imports, if allowed, have “21 other sugar-producing countries lined up like planes on the tarmac expecting the same sweetheart deal.”
CAFTA opens the door “to eliminate U.S. sugar production.”
Or, as Jack Roney, the alliance’s chief economics and policy analyst, told a Senate hearing in April, “It’s very simple. When you import subsidized foreign sugar, you export U.S. jobs.”
It is very simple: Trade should create more U.S. jobs than it eliminates – which recent trade deals have not done.
But Johanns’ and Big Ag’s front men like Kleckner never talk about jobs.
Instead, they, like Mary Poppins, merrily croon “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
Or the truth.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at agcomm@sbcglobal.net.)

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

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