Washington, D.C. –The blow to Wyoming sugar beet growers and the inability of consumers to differentiate between foreign and domestic meat products were reasons enough for U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., to vote against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), S. 1307, Thursday evening. “I support fair trade, but am not willing to gamble with the futures of Wyoming’s sugar beet growers and entire communities in my state in order to support this agreement,” said Enzi. “I’m also disappointed in the foot dragging that has been going on with country of origin labeling. Consumers should not be kept in the dark about where their food is coming from. CAFTA will lead to an influx of foreign products, but the people who buy them won’t know if they are eating beef raised in America or if their hamburger is from Honduras. ”
The Senate passed CAFTA 54-45. The agreement must still be approved by the House in order to take effect.
Additional remarks from a Senate floor statement follow.
Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
on S. 1307, the Dominican Republic-Central American-United States
Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill
June 30, 2005
Mr. ENZI: Mr. President, I rise today to express my opposition to the Dominican Republic-Central American-United States Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA. I am opposing the implementing legislation before the Senate today due to the negative impact that passage of the agreement will have on the domestic sugar industry. I also believe mandatory country of origin labeling should be implemented before we sign trade agreements that will bring in additional meat products.
The production of sugar is vitally important in Wyoming. Behind hay, which is fed to our livestock, sugar beets are the number one cash crop in Wyoming. So, the small sugar beet farms in Wyoming have a big impact on my state’s economy. For example, my office received calls from bankers and local economic development agencies in towns that depend upon the viability of the sugar beet industry. They were concerned about the impact of CAFTA on the health of their local economies – the economies of my home state.
In addition, the sugar industry is vertically integrated. Sugar beet farmers are invested in their land and specialized farming equipment. However, across the nation sugar beet farmers have also banded together to purchase the processing plants that add value to their crop. So, their investment in sugar is higher than the investments of other farmers in their crops. Many of these plants have been purchased in recent years with a long-term debt load. Wyoming sugar beet farmers have a special interest in ensuring that their industry has long-term viability. The sugar that would be imported from CAFTA countries under this agreement, in addition to the sugar expected to be imported from Mexico under NAFTA, would have a detrimental impact on the sugar beet industry in the near and distant future.
I appreciated the recent efforts the Administration made to engage the sugar industry to work out an agreement. However, I am concerned that the two sides only recently came to the table to address this divisive issue. The trade agreement has been signed for more than a year, but talks only began about three weeks ago. The problem should have been recognized and truly addressed earlier in the process. I am convinced that an agreement could have been reached. As it was, the sugar industry chose not to accept a short-term offer by the Administration. The offer would have provided a remedy for the length of the Farm Bill, this year and next year’s sugar beet crop. As I stated before, sugar beet farmers in Wyoming have made long-term investments in their processing facilities. They need a long-term solution not a short-term fix.
This problem will not go away. As the Administration continues to seek additional free trade agreements with countries that desire to send their sugar to our markets, this issue will resurface. I recommend that the Administration and the sugar industry continue creative discussions to identify a long-term solution beyond the next Farm Bill to ensure the viability of the sugar industry and the small family farmers that the industry supports in the United States.
Beyond Wyoming sugar, Wyoming cattle producers have made it clear to me that they want mandatory country of origin labeling implemented before new trade agreements are signed that could bring in additional beef and meat products. I agree that consumers should have the opportunity to make an informed purchase regarding their meat’s country of origin at their grocery store. U.S. beef is competitive, but it doesn’t receive a chance to compete when it isn’t labeled as U.S. beef for consumers.
With my vote against this bill, it would be easy for my opponents to cast me as an free trade obstructionist. I would like to remind them that until today, I have never voted against a free trade agreement on the floor of the Senate. The principles of fair trade, which I support, generally bring about increased democracy, more transparency in government and increased productivity. Along these lines, there are industries in Wyoming that communicated their support of CAFTA to me. I am pleased the agreement will improve market access for important industries like soda ash and oil and gas. I recognize the benefits this agreement will bring to many and applaud the Administration for their hard work in bringing this agreement to fruition. Unfortunately, I cannot vote for the agreement today because the costs outweigh the benefits for my state as a whole.
Thank you Mr. President. I yield the floor.