When Congress reconvenes next year, a major issue under consideration will be the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
This latest trade agreement has been negotiated between the United States and six Central America nations.
The agreement is running into determined opposition and it should.
A broad and diverse coalition of interests have joined forces to oppose congressional approval for a couple of fundamental reasons: the proposed agreement is bad for the U.S. economy and would prompt disastrous job losses in basic American industries.
Specifically, the U.S. sugar industry and the growers and workers in the sugar industry in Eastern Oregon, vehemently oppose the agreement as it stands.
We are trusting Oregon's members of Congress to make certain this agreement does not mark the beginning of the end for the sugar industry in our state and the entire country.
If passed by Congress, CAFTA will allow six Central American countries, which are already our largest foreign sugar suppliers, duty-free market access for an additional 110,000 metric tons of sugar in the first year of the agreement. For the next 15 years, their access to the U.S. sugar market would grow by another 2 percent.
Free and fair trade with partner countries is an important part of the global economy. But trade needs to be exactly that - fair, with both partners benefiting equally.
The Oregon sugar industry is highly efficient and has learned to survive in a very competitive environment, but we cannot stay competitive, or in business, if our domestic industry is forced to compete against foreign industries that often exploit children to cut their cane and are polluters of their air and water.
If we don't allow it here, how can we condone it there?
Americans should recoil and be outright appalled by these working and manufacturing conditions as a means to gain a competitive advantage over our hard working American farmers and factory workers.
The proposed CAFTA agreement will do nothing to address this hugely unfair situation and will, in fact, only serve to make it worse.
A recent study conducted by the University of Idaho makes the case that the sugar industry in Oregon and Idaho contributed more than $1 billion in gross sales, nearly $340 million in value-added impact to our economy, created more than 7,000 jobs and contributed nearly $30 million in indirect business taxes.
Maintaining this vital agricultural industry should be a critical goal of American trade policy.
Rather, the CAFTA agreement puts the industry in the cross-hairs of what can only be called unfair trade.
Still, CAFTA is about far more than the domestic U.S. sugar industry. Environmental, human rights and labor organizations strongly oppose CAFTA, all on grounds that the proposed agreement is not right for the United States, our workers and our basic industries.
CAFTA will do great and lasting harm to the Oregon sugar industry. It is time to put the brakes on this proposal and either fix it or reject it.
Ralph Burton is President and CEO of Amalgamated Sugar Company, a grower-owned cooperative of more than 1,200 members in Oregon, Idaho and Washington. The company employs more than 1,500 at its four sugar processing facilities, including a plant in Nyssa.