2005-08-05 / Community

Congressman Meeks Gives DR-CAFTA His Vote

Congressman Gregory W. Meeks, who represents a portion of Rockaway in the House of Representatives, released the following statement after the Dominican Republic Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) vote, “Today, after much deliberation I decided to support the Dominican Republic Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) because it is the right thing to do for New York City, New York State and the Central American countries.  I am confident that we can expect positive economic and social impact from this agreement

“As I deliberated I used as a guiding principle a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, ‘there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.’ Despite the controversy surrounding CAFTA I made it my mission to gain all the facts on both sides of the debate and make the right decision based on the facts. 

“WHAT CAFTA DOES FOR NY

New York City is poised to gain from the passage of this agreement because of the presence of JFK airport in my district, the established trade relationships and the cultural ties that exist between New York and Central America. There are several specific reasons why CAFTA is important to NY including:

• 80% of exports from the DR-CAFTA region currently enter the US duty free and 99% for agricultural goods. On the other hand U.S. businesses do not have free access to Central American countries. CAFTA will immediately eliminate tariffs on 80% of U.S. goods and exports to Central America. All remaining tariffs will be phased out over 10 years.  Non-tariff trade barriers will also be eliminated. Fewer tariffs and more exports mean more U.S. jobs.

• Opening foreign markets to U.S. exports helps small and medium size businesses. Small and medium size companies make up 87% of current U.S. exporters to DR-CAFTA countries. 

• At least 24 exporters to DR-CAFTA countries are in my district.

• As trade increases so does transportation, services, warehousing, business and holiday travel and cargo going in and out of JFK airport. This is an important part of the economy of New York’s 6th Congressional district and a benefit for many of my constituents whose jobs are directly connected to the airport.

• New York’s export of goods was $520 million in 2004, the seventh largest in the US. 

• Tariff and non-tariff barrier elimination could have an estimated $150 million increase of NY exports in the first year and $803 million after nine years. 

• The CAFTA region is the 18th largest export market for New York.

“WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE REGION

In 1989 Congress negotiated the Bipartisan Accord for Central America in support of peace, security and democracy in Latin America.  The challenge before members of Congress then was finding a way to cross the political divide and support a policy that promoted rule of law, peace and security in war plundered Central America.  Now that democracy is a reality in Central America, CAFTA is the next logical step in order to support and sustain democracy and economic growth. 

“A delicate democracy is not sustainable unless it transforms for the better the lives of the poorest of a region that is known to have severe wealth disparity.  That transformation can only be achieved with the opportunities that come from economic investment.  A recent study estimates that with CAFTA in place the collective Central American income will rise by $5 billion and labor standards are likely to improve. Analysis from the Inter-American Bank and World Bank similarly predict positive outcomes for those who need them most. 

“As I considered the merits of DR-CAFTA for the Central American region I met with Presidents from Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador.  Each of these democratically elected presidents urged me to vote for this agreement because it will promote opportunity and growth and support long term development efforts in their respective countries.  I realized that they want the same things for their constituents that I want for mine, more jobs, increased investments and expansion of the local economy. They see CAFTA as a critical tool toward reaching those goals.  In addition, for some of these presidents CAFTA is a tool in the push to strengthen transparency and rule of law in a region that was ravaged by guerilla warfare less than two decades ago. 

“CAFTA will send a real and symbolic message that the United States has confidence in the growing democracies of its neighbors to the south. With a commitment to trade capacity building and improving labor conditions, it will also indicate to the leaders of the region that we are interested in building an economic relationship that will fight the long history of economic inequality and poverty that has plagued the most vulnerable citizens of Central America. 

“THE CREDIBILITY OF DEMS FROM FORMER ADMINISTRATIONS

As I considered CAFTA I also turned to leaders from former Administrations who I know have their hearts in the right place and credibility on world issues. Former President Jimmy Carter is one of many reliable leaders whose position I evaluated. Jimmy Carter in support of CAFTA recently said, ‘There now are democratically elected governments in each of the countries covered by CAFTA.  In negotiating this agreement, the presidents of each of the six nations had to contend with their own companies that fear competition with US firms.  They have put their credibility on the line, not only with this trade agreement but more broadly by promoting market reforms that have been urged for decades by U.S. presidents of both parties. If the U.S. Congress were to turn its back on CAFTA, it would undercut these fragile democracies, compel them to retreat to protectionism.

“REAL PROGRESS ON LABOR AND TRADE CAPACITY

CAFTA has solid steps toward helping to protect worker rights and assist subsistence farmers who will be affected by this agreement.  I have pushed for and supported the administrations increase in funds of $40 million set aside every year for the next four years for labor and environmental capacity building. These funds will assist in the monitoring and enforcement of labor laws in CAFTA countries.  An additional $3 million set aside each year for the credible and independent International Labor Organization to monitor and report every six months on progress and problems with worker rights will also ensure progress on Labor in Central America.

“YES OR NO

Despite the fact that CAFTA is by no means a perfect agreement, voting it down was not a valid option because it would not subsequently be replaced by a perfect agreement. The options were simply vote yes for a non-amendable CAFTA based on the benefits we are sure to see or vote no for changes not likely to be realized. I could not in good conscience leave U.S. businesses, my constituents and Central Americans at certain disadvantage.”

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