Alabama delegation undecided on CAFTA

ALABAMA - Alabama's love-hate relationship with free trade will be on full display in Congress in coming weeks as the state's delegation wrestles with the next major deal involving five Central American trading partners and the Dominican Republic.

Even within certain industries there are widely different opinions on whether the Central American Free Trade Agreement would help or hurt Alabama's manufacturing and farm economy. The lack of a clear consensus has a majority of the state's congressional delegation in the undecided category, although skepticism over CAFTA is widespread among the nine members.

Even Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who has been among the most consistent opponents of free-trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, is unsure.

"There are upsides and downsides," Shelby said. A central question is whether the Central American Free Trade Agreement/Dominican Republic will level the playing field of trade in the region, as the Bush administration has promised. The agreement includes Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua; the Dominican Republic was added last August.

Almost 80 percent of products from those six countries are already duty-free when they enter the United States, and the percentage for agricultural products is even higher. On the other hand, U.S. exports to the region are slapped with tariffs, sometimes as high as 164 percent on certain poultry products, according to the Senate Finance Committee. CAFTA would eliminate or phase out most of those barriers.

"We have been presented a golden opportunity to balance the scales of trade access with this agreement," said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

It is not that simple in Alabama, where the Alabama Farmers Federation is reflecting the ambivalence seen across the state. For instance, pork producers would be happy to see the tariffs reduced on their products, but fruit and vegetable growers are wary of the region's competitively warm climate.

"We are still evaluating our position on CAFTA," said Keith Gray, the Washington lobbyist for Alfa. "At this point we're not supporting it. We recognize the different commodities would be impacted differently. But we reserve the right to take a position down the road."

calendar icon 28 April 2005
clock icon 1 minute read
© 2000 - 2024 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.