Forum editorial: USDA chief will get an earful
Given his background on the farm and as a farm state governor, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns certainly understands production agriculture of the kind practiced in the Red River Valley. His visit to Fargo today is welcome, not only be...
Given his background on the farm and as a farm state governor, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns certainly understands production agriculture of the kind practiced in the Red River Valley. His visit to Fargo today is welcome, not only because he's a friend of farmers, but also because he's likely to get an earful about trade agreements that threaten the economic stability of American farmers.
The pending Central American Free Trade Agreement is a major concern among area sugar beet growers. While CAFTA's sugar import provisions are small and could be seen as inconsequential, the worry is opening the door, however slightly. The camel's nose under the tent analogy is apt.
Moreover, there do not appear to be any signficant winners in CAFTA. Wheat, corn and rice growers would see no immediate impact, a government report concluded. Beef producers won't gain from exports because at an average wage of $2 a day, most Central Americans can't afford U.S. beef.
There would, however, be an impact. The federal government's own projections found CAFTA would add $110 million to the current $2.5 million trade deficit with the region. And that would come at a time when other trade agreements have - for the first time in U.S. history - contributed to a decline in American farm exports and an increase in foreign farm imports. The result is an expectation that for the first time in more than a generation the U.S. farm sector will not see a trade surplus this year.
While CAFTA is souring the sugar industry on the Bush administration's trade policies, Secretary Johanns apparently knows that current federal farm legislation is working as was forecast. Attempts to gut key provisions of the farm law, including the countercyclical price support mechanism, have been derailed, at least for now. Johanns heard from farm state members of Congress and farm state governors - North Dakota's John Hoeven among them. The administration backed away from reopening the farm bill.
Johanns has been on the job only a few months, so it's premature to make a definitive assessment of his performance. Farmers and agri-business people surely understand that he serves at the president's whim, which means he has an obligation to represent the administration's policies regarding agriculture. We think the administration is wrong about CAFTA, but right to back away from messing around with a farm bill that works. And Johanns has wasted no time in traveling to farm country to hear from farmers and the agriculture industry. That's a good sign.
A warm welcome to the secretary.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board