Farmers disappointed in vote
Campaigning for votes and donations in western Minnesota could be more difficult for Sen. Norm Coleman and Rep.
Campaigning for votes and donations in western Minnesota could be more difficult for Sen. Norm Coleman and Rep. Mark Kennedy.
With their backing, Congress passed the controversial Central American Free Trade Agreement.
For more than a year, sugar beet growers in western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota have rallied against the trade accord, saying it jeopardizes their industry.
"I think most sugar growers are disappointed in them," said Douglas Etten, a Foxhome, Minn., sugar beet farmer and vice chairman of the Wahpeton-based Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative.
"Personally, for me it's going to be difficult to support them," Etten said.
Coleman and Kennedy, both Republicans, said they voted for CAFTA because they believe it's good for Minnesota and the nation.
Both members of Congress said they held their support for CAFTA until winning a concession from the Bush administration that protects the U.S. sugar industry's domestic market from excess imports.
"I hope in the end, within the next year or two, that folks in western Minnesota say I did the right thing for them," Coleman said.
Kennedy, who represents Minnesota's 6th District, is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mark Dayton next year.
"If I lose any support, it would be a misunderstanding of the effectiveness that I've had for sugar," Kennedy said. "I have a track record of negotiating hard for sugar."
Officials at the Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative and Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Co. said they will monitor CAFTA's impact and then consider their political support of Coleman and Kennedy.
American Crystal Sugar, the nation's largest beet sugar processor, is among Kennedy's and Coleman's top campaign contributors. Minn-Dak and other sugar industry organizations also have donated to their campaign chests, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"In talking with sugar growers, both these guys don't have a lot of support anymore," said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. "People don't forget very easily."
CAFTA will eliminate most tariffs on about $32 billion in goods traded every year between the United States and Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras.
In the first year of the agreement, the CAFTA countries can collectively sell about 110,000 tons of sugar in the United States without paying tariffs. Their market access would then increase by 2 percent each year for the next 15 years.
Late Wednesday, the House passed CAFTA 217-215. The trade accord cleared the Senate June 30.
Clay County farmer Mike Astrup said he and other sugar producers worry that CAFTA may be a template for other trade agreements to come.
"These other FTAs (free trade agreements) are like planes waiting on the tarmac," he said.
The sugar industry nearly defeated CAFTA, an effort that may convince the White House not to put sugar on any more negotiating tables, Peterson said.
"That might be the silver lining," he said. "I don't think they want to go through this fight again."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526