Editorial: Trade plan must involve everyone on equal footing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The movement to a free-market society makes sense, but only if all players are on an equal footing in the race for global competition.

The Bush administration’s push for the pending trade agreement with Central America would phase out protective tariffs and quotas in an effort to promote free trade between the United States and Central America, but it also has the potential of bankrupting U.S. farmers, especially in the production of sugar &045; which is cause for alarm to Red River Valley sugar beet farmers and sugar producers.

Farmers have warned President Bush about the Central American Free Trade Agreement, saying its ratification was not necessarily a done deal in the GOP Senate.

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Even Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., a staunch supporter of the Bush administration, issued doubts over CAFTA, saying 40,000 Minnesotans depend on the sugar industry in the state.

Democrats Sen. Mark Dayton and Rep. Collin Peterson are sure: They’ll vote against it.

Low-wage economies, such as that in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, allow the exporting of goods to the United States at prices well below that of U.S. producers. Without controls on some products, such as sugar and beef, the United States could be flooded with cheaper Central American products at the expense of our growers and producers. Thus, the playing field is not equal.

We’ve seen the same problems with the North American Free Trade Agreement. While the overall agreement has been good for trade between the U.S. and Canada, sectors have suffered. Imports of cheap Canada wood has hurt our forest industry, as did the importation of Canadian beef before the disruption in trade over &uot;mad cow&uot; disease found in a Canadian cow.

The Bush administration should not launch headlong into CAFTA without ensuring that an equal playing field is in place. Otherwise, economies with much to gain and nothing to lose will surely take advantage of the potential windfall.

&045; The Bemidji Pioneer