Trade support still split down party lines


WASHINGTON — A week after the Ohio presidential primary drew the anti-NAFTA rhetoric from the Democratic candidates, Ohio Farm Bureau presidents heard predictable positions from their congressmen on free trade. Republicans lined up to support international trade; Democrats squared up in opposition.

Ohio’s Republican U.S. senator, George Voinovich, told the farm leaders he will continue to support free trade agreements, although not without reservations.

“I don’t know what we’d do today without free trade,” he said. And he added that Ohio has benefited from the North American Free Trade Agreement, the subject of criticism from both Democratic presidential candidates.

“Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton don’t understand trade,” he said. “They just decided to demagogue the issue in Ohio.”

Because of NAFTA, Voinovich said, the U.S. has a “gigantic trade surplus” with Canada and Mexico, and “Ohio’s doing fine.”

“I could show you the numbers,” he added.

Voinovich did say, however, he wouldn’t support the South Korean Free Trade Agreement unless negotiations continued.

Agree to disagree

Rep. Zach Space, D-18th, told the Farm Bureau leaders he’s “taken a pretty hard stand” against trade issues and acknowledged that puts him at odds with most Farm Bureau positions.

“You’re probably not going to be comfortable with my position on trade,” he said March 13 when the county leaders visited him in Washington.

“Canada’s not the problem,” Space said, noting that some of the anti-NAFTA rhetoric is off base. “The problem is in the exploitation of massive numbers of people in developing countries.”

Ag needs trade

The Farm Bureau hopes to persuade legislators to see the economic benefits of agricultural international trade.

“If we hadn’t had trade,” said Ohio Farm Bureau President Bob Peterson of Fayette County, “we would be out of business. We need to maintain that trade.”

the U.S. is the world’s largest agricultural exporter, with ag exports accounting for $82 billion in 2007, or one-fourth of farm cash receipts.

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