Late Thursday, the U.S. Senate passed the Central America Free Trade Agreement to eliminate tariffs and trade barriers in the region. The measure, which remains controversial because of provisions that open up more trade for sugar domestically, had faced some hard times getting through committee. However, after initial calls that the measure would be sent to the Senate floor without a committee vote the mood apparently changed.
Thursday, the measure arrived on the Senate floor with an approval vote from the Senate Finance Committee, which was a seal of approval for the measure. The Senate went on to approve the measure late in the session by a 54-45 vote following a White House negotiation that brought on board two key senators who worried about the measure's impact on the sugar industry.
Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns issued a statement commending the Senate for its action on the measure noting that "CAFTA is another important step in building new markets and improving the competitive position of U.S. agriculture in the global marketplace."
The Minnesota sugar industry issued a statement before the Senate voted on the measure noting that while there are a lot of side deals "no deal was brokered that addresses our concerns with CAFTA. And, there appears to be no interest by [USDA] or the U.S. Trade Representative's office to find a long-term comprehensive solution." The statement was supported by American Crystal, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association and Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative.
The House Ways and Means Committee also voted to approve CAFTA, sending the measure to the House for consideration. At that level the measure will face tough opposition with key players from sugar-producing states saying they'll fight the trade pact. A House vote on the measure is expected before the August recess.