That’s what I keep telling myself when I listen to the lively debate surrounding our country’s pending trade deal with five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic, also known as CAFTA.
I’m a cotton grower. I’m also a supporter of free trade.
Earlier this month the National Cotton Council of America–an industry group representing producers, ginners, cottonseed handlers, warehousers, merchants, cooperatives, and textile manufacturers–announced its support for CAFTA.
In a resolution, the NCC board said that CAFTA presents “the best opportunity for supplying apparel manufacturers and other end-use manufacturing industries in the western hemisphere” with cotton fiber grown in America and cotton textile products made in America.
That’s all I needed to hear. If you’re anything like me, you’re too busy farming or spending time with your family to sit down and read the intricacies of U.S. trade agreements, with all of their detailed provisions and side letters. That’s why we have associations such as the National Cotton Council of America–so that people who have my interests at heart can study CAFTA and tell me whether or not it’s a fair shake.
Cotton producers aren’t the only folks in the agricultural community who support CAFTA, of course. Last month, more than 50 farm groups endorsed CAFTA in a letter to Congress. They called it “a home run for American agriculture.” They noted that U.S. market share in the CAFTA countries has fallen from 54 percent to 40 percent over the last decade because of preferential arrangements these nations have negotiated with our competitors. CAFTA will fix this problem. “The agriculture agreement is tilted steeply in the direction of the United States,” said the letter.
The letter’s signers looked like a who’s-who of American agriculture: the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Frozen Food Institute, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the National Milk Producers Federation. Others included groups representing farmers who grow apples, corn, grapes, peaches, potatoes, soybeans, and wheat.
A diverse array of non-agricultural groups is also on board, such as the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Jewish Committee, the National Council of Textile Organizations, and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Many of America’s biggest companies say they want Congress to pass CAFTA because it’s good for their customers as well as their employees: Caterpillar, IBM, Levi Strauss, Sears, Target, Wal-Mart, and Xerox. Companies that sell airplanes, candy, cell phones, fertilizer, life insurance, and toys also have hopped on board the CAFTA bandwagon.
Even NATO supports CAFTA. I am of course referring to the National Association of Theatre Owners rather than the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, though I do suppose the generals would march in line behind CAFTA if they thought about it. After all, Central America was a major security concern as recently as the 1980s and closer ties to the global marketplace have brought stability to the region.
Critics may dismiss all this and call it special-interest politics at work. But that’s silly. The coalition behind CAFTA is incredibly broad. Have you ever bought corn on the cob at a grocery store? Or a toy at Wal-Mart? Or a pair of blue jeans made with American-grown cotton? If so, then you’ve participated in an economic transaction with groups saying CAFTA is good for them–and that means it’s good for you, because a smart trade deal will result in lower prices and better jobs.
This isn’t special-interest politics, but general-interest politics. The opposition to CAFTA, on the other hand, reeks of special interests pursuing the politics of protectionism. That’s why newspaper editorial pages all around America have come out in favor of CAFTA. Their voices include not only elite publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, but also hometown papers such as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Wisconsin State Journal.
There’s safety in numbers. And that’s a big part of the reason why I’m so comfortable with CAFTA.
Ted Sheely raises cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios and garlic in the San Joaquin Valley and lives in Lemoore, California. He is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology, a national grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, Iowa, formed by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.