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September 2011 Archive for The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

U.S. Trade Show: Deal or No Deal

Sep 29, 2011

By Carol Keiser: Belleair, Fla.

Note: this column first appeared Sept. 28 in The Washington Times.
The White House trade agenda suffered a new setback last week when the Senate rejected a bill to strengthen the President’s ability to conduct trade diplomacy with other countries.
Sounds like another sorry example of Washington’s partisan paralysis, doesn’t it?
Now consider this bizarre fact: Republicans offered the proposal and Democrats defeated it.
Shouldn’t it have been the other way around?
So here’s a fresh reason to wonder whether President Obama is serious about creating jobs and encouraging economic growth by boosting exports.
We know he won’t strike any new trade deals soon, following last week’s embarrassing vote on Trade Promotion Authority. It would have given the Obama administration the ability to negotiate trade agreements and submit them to Congress for up-or-down votes.
The up-or-down vote is crucial because it strips Congress of the ability to alter the text of an existing agreement through a never-ending series of amendments. Other nations will bargain with only one entity--the President, usually through his trade representative--and not with 535 members of Congress and all of their separate agendas.
If trade talks were a game show, they’d be "Deal or No Deal." A President who lacks Trade Promotion Authority compels other countries to declare, at the outset, "No Deal." Nothing gets started--and this new failure probably even delivers a blow to the deliberations surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Obama has claimed is critical to American competitiveness in the global economy.
In the past, politics have explained the denial of TPA. During the Clinton years, congressional Republicans refused to grant it. During the Bush years, congressional Democrats refused to grant it.
These were bad choices, but at least they had a partisan rationale.
Now we’ve witnessed a brand-new species of gridlock: Senate Democrats have denied a President of their own party the power to hold meaningful trade talks with other nations. If the United States had a parliamentary system, this would be like a vote of no confidence in the government.
The result suggests that Obama’s trade agenda is kaput, either because he can’t persuade a handful of members of his own party to embrace his vision of creating jobs through exports or because he never really believed the vision he set forth in the first place.
More than 18 months ago, Obama promised that U.S. exports would double in five years. He also said that the passage of three pending trade agreements was crucial to this goal. He has called for their approval on many high-profile occasions, most recently during his jobs address to Congress.
"Now it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products in Panama and Colombia and South Korea," he said on Sept. 8. "That’s what we need to get done."
But they can’t get done until Obama first submits them to Congress. They were negotiated during the previous administration (before President Bush’s TPA expired) and Obama has talked them up for a year and a half. Yet they’re still sitting on his desk in the Oval Office.
Once upon a time, supporters of free trade were hopeful that Obama meant what he said--and that he was genuinely committed to helping U.S. companies sell their made-in-America products to foreign consumers.
Now pessimism has set in. "This is ridiculous," says Pat Roberts, a Republican senator from Kansas who is the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Every third foggy night, the President makes a speech and says we need these trade agreements." Now Roberts predicts that there won’t be any trade agreements this year or next.
We may know soon. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will visit the United States next month and the President will host a state dinner for him on Oct. 13.
Will Obama be able to tell Lee in person that he has bothered, at long last, to submit their trade agreement to Congress?
Mark your calendar.
Mrs. Keiser, a Truth about Trade & Technology board member, owns and manages cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois. www.truthabouttrade.org


Fish Tales in Washington

Sep 22, 2011

By Ted Sheely – Lemoore, California

We had a good summer of fishing for salmon at the Rainbow King Lodge in Southwest Alaska. Our guests enjoyed the natural beauty of Lake Iliamna and its environs, where the rivers and streams offer some of the best fishing spots in the world.
Now some politicians in Washington think they have identified a threat to the pristine Alaska wilderness. These members of Congress are trying to force the federal government to slow down or stop a technology company that has figured out a way to make salmon less expensive for ordinary consumers.
If they succeed, they’ll destroy jobs, raise prices in grocery stores, and place new pressures on wild fish populations.
The controversy surrounds a company called AquaBounty, which has used biotechnology to develop a gene-enhanced Atlantic salmon that grows twice as fast as regular salmon. Scientists at the Food & Drug Administration have studied biotech salmon for 15 years and have determined that the fish (in their words) are “as safe to eat as food from other Atlantic salmon.”
That’s a compelling endorsement from men and women who have devoted their lives to the scientific investigation of food safety.
Here’s a competing analysis from Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who wants to overrule the scientists: “It kind of gives me the heebie jeebies.”
You know what gives me the heebie jeebies? Members of Congress who exploit their political power to trample a science-based regulatory process.
Yet this is exactly what’s happening. This summer, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would ban the FDA from approving the biotech salmon. Now Murkowski is trying to get the Senate to join this know-nothing cause.
The enemies of biotechnology have proven that they’ll say anything to advance their agenda, even adopting the fear mongering language of Greenpeace activists in Europe. When these radicals campaign against the types of agricultural biotechnology that American farmers use every day, they condemn it as “frankenfood.” Taking their cue from the extremists, Murkowski and her cronies speak of “frankenfish.”
Despite their rhetoric, they’re really just engaged in a bit of old-fashioned special-interest politics. Murkowski thinks biotech salmon will hurt Alaska’s salmon industry. She has every right to defend what she regards as her state’s parochial interests, but the rest of us shouldn’t let her smother a new technology that will help consumers and protect the environment.
One of Murkowski’s favorite arguments is to say that biotech fish will pollute the gene pool of fish in the wild. What nonsense. As the owner of a fishing lodge in Alaska, I have a strong incentive to keep the Frontier State’s fish population healthy for catching and eating. And like the FDA scientists, I have no worries about the safety of GM salmon.
They’re grown inland, far away from traditional breeding grounds. What’s more, they’re raised to be female and sterile, so even in the highly unlikely event that one escapes--perhaps by growing lungs and feet and jogging to the ocean--it won’t be able to mix with conventional populations.
Environmentalists ought to love this biotech innovation because it promises to relieve pressure on fishing stocks. Thirteen species of salmon and steelhead are already listed as endangered and many other varieties of fish are threatened in the wild. If biotechnology can help producers satisfy consumer demand--not just for salmon but for other types of fish as well--it may offer a tool for effective fish conservation.
Jobs are at stake as well. If the anti-biotech crowd gets its way, our government will set the troubling precedent that the FDA’s scientific reviews are vulnerable to political interference--and technology companies will hesitate to invest in the United States.
“We are an American company,” says the CEO of AquaBounty. “We wanted to start in America.” But if politics trumps science, he may take his business elsewhere, thanks to the likes of Murkowski.
That’s wonderful. In the worst economic times of our lives, with an unemployment rate that hovers above 9 percent, a bunch of politicians want to force a technology company to leave the country and create jobs elsewhere.
Now that’s a thought that should give us all the heebie jeebies.
Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. Ted and his sons own Rainbow King Lodge on Lake Iliamna, Alaska. He is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology www.truthabouttrade.org

Send The Free Trade Agreements to Congress….Right Away!

Sep 15, 2011

By Dean Kleckner: Des Moines, Iowa

In his jobs speech last week, President Obama demanded that Congress pass his new stimulus proposals “right away.” This was his constant refrain: right away, right away, right away.
Here’s something Obama can do “right away” to create jobs: submit to Congress three free-trade agreements that have languished for years.
It’s hard to believe that the president hasn’t done this already because he seems to understand that exports create jobs. At least that’s what he has said repeatedly.
In his State of the Union address last year, Obama appealed for congressional approval of the trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. He repeated his call for these pacts in this year’s State of the Union. And he did it once again last week.
“Now it’s time to clear the way for a series of trade agreements that would make it easier for American companies to sell their products,” said Obama in his latest high-profile speech. “If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers.”
This makes sense. One study shows that for every $1 billion in new exports, the U.S. economy gains 6,000 jobs.
So obviously Congress should enact these agreements “right away.”
But Congress is powerless to do anything on its own. First, Obama must formally submit these agreements for approval. So far, he hasn’t bothered.
He could have submitted them more than two and a half years ago, right after he took the oath of office, because they were negotiated by the Bush administration and ready to go at that time. He could have submitted them more than a year and a half ago, when he first embraced them publicly.
Heck, he could have brought the paperwork with him last week when he traveled down Pennsylvania Avenue and spoke to Congress.
And yet he still hasn’t submitted the trade agreements to Congress.
Some pundits have speculated that Obama plans to wage a Truman-style re-election campaign, meaning that he intends to run against a “do-nothing Congress.”
When it comes to trade, however, he’s a do-nothing president. He talks and talks and talks--and Congress waits and waits and waits for him to submit the agreements he continues to praise.
If Obama submits the agreements and Congress falls into gridlock, then the president will have a case. Until then, however, he may want to cut back on the lectures about what must be done “right away.”
Perhaps the presidential candidates could exert some pressure. So far, however, they haven’t seized the opportunity. Trade barely came up last week, when eight of them gathered for a debate at the Reagan Library. And almost nothing was said on Monday night, when they faced off at a tea-party debate hosted by CNN---only Michelle Bachmann made a specific reference to the free-trade agreements.
With the exception of Ron Paul, who has opposed many trade agreements during his career in Congress, all of the GOP contenders probably favor the accords with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Yet only Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, has done more than offer cursory support. On August 31, his campaign website posted a document that calls for passage of the three deals that Obama says he wants. Huntsman even takes it a step farther, saying he would seek new agreements with India, Japan, and Taiwan.
One candidate isn’t enough. These Republicans are auditioning for leader of the free world--and they need to tell us how they would lead on free trade.
They could pledge to submit the three pending trade deals to Congress on January 20, 2013--in other words, on Day One of a new presidential administration. This would let voters know where they stand and lock them in to a useful promise.
Perhaps their words would even compel Obama to act.
That would be the best result of all. As Obama himself said in his speech, Americans in need of work “don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months” until the next election.
No they don’t, Mr. President. So what are you waiting for? Send these trade agreements to Congress “right away.”

Dean Kleckner chairs Truth About Trade and Technology. www.truthabouttrade.org

When Food Is Short, Danger Lies Ahead

Sep 08, 2011

By John Rigolizzo Jr. –-Berlin, N.J.

In a startling new poll, a majority of American voters believe that the United States will experience "major political uprisings" in the next ten years.
Rebellion? Insurrection? Riots?
It’s hard to know exactly what constitutes "major political uprisings," but the fact that 51% of voters think these incidents are at least "somewhat likely" is a sure sign of trouble. The survey, conducted for Fox News and released last week, also found that 27% believe convulsions are "very likely."
The United States was born in revolution and it has suffered through a civil war. Could another cataclysmic event await us in the near future?
Perhaps a familiar phrase is now entering your mind: It can’t happen here.
Right now, we’re watching it happen elsewhere. Political unrest has toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Libya’s ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, has lost control of his country and the remnants of his regime could fall any day now. If protestors in Syria survive a brutal crackdown, they may force concessions from the dictators of Damascus.
A new study by the New England Complex Systems Institute suggests that all of this unrest in the Arab world has its origin not in a desire for freedom, as many casual commentators have claimed, but in the desperation that follows food insecurity. The researchers show a strong link between the rising cost of food and the timing of the upheaval.
In other words, when food prices peak, danger lies ahead.
But can it happen here? Are the United States and the rest of the developed world also vulnerable?
Let’s hope not. Yet we’ve recently seen everything from the chaos of flash mobs in Philadelphia to the terror of street violence in London.
These events may have nothing to do with the price of food. Then again, we’re always hearing about the complexity of root causes and how the stress of economic hardship afflicts impoverished communities.
These days, economic hardship is everywhere. The official statistics are bad enough, but I think things are even worse than they indicate. Joblessness is so high in my area that white-collar professionals have come to my farm in search of work.
I’ve lived through a few recessions, but I’ve not witnessed anything like this.
Americans are upset about the country’s direction. What would it take to ignite "major political uprisings"? A widespread power outage? A disruption in the fuel supply?
How about a food shortage?
Just three days of hunger changes your perspective on everything. You can go for a day without food and maybe stretch it into two. But on the third day, you wake up determined to do anything--anything at all--to put food in the mouths of your kids.
This is why trade and technology are so important. We need to make sure that agricultural goods can move across borders, flowing from producers to consumers without burdensome tariffs and quotas. And farmers everywhere must have access to biotechnology so that they can grow as much food as possible, helping to eliminate food shortages before they even start. Regulators in Washington must do their part by helping safe products reach the market, not suffocating them beneath the weight of questionable rules.
If trade and technology in agriculture were to vanish, we’d certainly face political trouble. Would it amount to "major political uprisings"?
Do you think it can’t happen here?
That phrase has special resonance for a particular reason. In 1935, Sinclair Lewis published a novel, It Can’t Happen Here. It’s about something supposedly unthinkable: the rise of a dictatorship in the United States. Two years ago, the author Joseph Finder put the book at the top of a list of great novels about political conspiracy.
I’m hopeful that the United States will resist the "major political uprisings" that appear to worry so many of my countrymen.
Yet we’d be foolish to assume that "it can’t happen here"--and wise to take steps to ensure that it doesn’t by improving our food security.
John Rigolizzo, Jr. is a fifth-generation farmer, raising fresh vegetables and field corn in southern New Jersey. The family farm produces for retail and wholesale markets. John is a board member of Truth about Trade and Technology - www.truthabouttrade.org
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