Minnesota Farm Bureau President Al Christopherson has expressed a number of concerns with the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and Australian Free Trade Agreement.
"Within the proposed CAFTA agreement, no ag products have been excluded from the agreement, which has been a controversial issue for sugarbeet growers," Christopherson says. "The sugar sector continues to be opposed to being included within any free trade agreement. Rather, they believe sugar should only be considered within worldwide discussions in the World Trade Organization. This is similar to Farm Bureau policy, which says that our highest priority is the successful conclusion of multilateral WTO negotiations for all commodities, and that our best opportunity to address critical trade issues for all commodities lies in that arena, rather than FTAs. Notwithstanding, we are facing many future proposed agreements."
Sugar was excluded from the Australian FTA, but there is concern over the increased beef, dairy, sheep and wool imports from Australia that may negatively impact domestic growers, says Christopherson.
Opinions differ on what impact the proposed CAFTA agreement will have on U.S. sugarbeet growers. Reports range from catastrophic to having minimal impact, the farm leader says. Some have claimed that provisions undermine the federal farm bill, and the sugar program will collapse. Some claim that while the proposed agreement will not significantly harm the U.S. sugar industry, the agreement should be rejected because it sets bad precedent for including sugar in other FTAs.
"I have yet to see any validated reports or numbers that would substantiate any of those claims. That is why Farm Bureau has withheld support or opposition of CAFTA until we completed our own in-house analysis. We in Farm Bureau are not afforded the luxury of only protecting or promoting one commodity, rather we are charged with the awesome responsibility of trying to make the best judgment on what is best for the entire U.S. ag community," says Christopherson.
"The sugarbeet growers and processing industry within Minnesota and the Upper Midwest is a crucial part of the rural economy in many communities, and I take every opportunity to remind my colleagues and state and national policymakers about that fact. I plan to use my position on the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Board of Directors to express the voice of many concerned Minnesota farmers over pending free trade agreements," says Christopherson.
For more information, visit www.minnesotafarmbureau.org.