Wednesday, November 19, 2008



On the Issues - Straight Talk with Hank

NAFTA and its impact on Texas Agriculture

...TTC is the NAFTA super-highway from Mexico all the way to Canada. And if that is allowed to happen we will kill our entire vegetable industry in the United States.

Every vegetable you eat will come from Mexico or Central America. . ...

Transcript of Straight Talk with Hank on NAFTA

You know, NAFTA was a federal treaty that our government entered into with Mexico and Canada. It, just like the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), was done without the input of the people. We didn't get to vote on it. We didn't get to vote on the TTC.

I have a couple of problems with NAFTA.

What NAFTA ultimately did, or has done, is practically killed the fruit and vegetable market in the state of Texas. By the time our farmers are putting the seed in the ground to plant those vegetables, we're receiving those very same vegetables across the border from Central America and Mexico. They're hitting our grocery markets at the very same time our farmers are putting the seeds in the ground. So NAFTA has taken away any and all early markets away from our farmers. Which is where they used to make their money.

One example I use all the time is watermelons because people traditionally in East Texas can't wait until the first watermelons get to the grocery store. Well, when our farmers are putting the watermelon seed in the ground in the early spring, we're getting watermelons out of Central America. If you'll take notice in the grocery store, those first melons will sell for five or six bucks a piece. I mean, pretty good money for a melon. By the time our Texas melons hit the market, they're worth 99 cents a piece in the grocery market. And that, at best, in a good year, is break- even cost for the farmer. And consequently, we've lost the biggest majority of our vegetable market in Texas.

This relates a lot to TTC because TTC is basically known as the NAFTA super-highway. It's supposed to reach from Mexico all the way to Canada. And if that is allowed to happen we will kill our entire vegetable industry in the United States. Every vegetable you eat will come from Mexico or Central America. Or other Latin producing countries closer to the equator.
We had an agreement prior to NAFTA with Mexican authorities where we could move live cattle back and forth across the border. Because of BSE [Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy a.k.a. Mad Cow Disease], Mexico has restricted movement of live cattle into or through their country for going on 26 months now. Canada is the same way. We can't move live cattle into Canada.

There are American ranchers who have live cattle in Canada and can't get them out because of the BSE. However, we're still allowing Mexico to bring live cattle into the United States. Over 150,000 head a month.
Those types of things have made NAFTA a killer to Texas agriculture. The NCNB, the National Cattleman's Beef Board, junior board, met with Texas Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs in February.

Their main issue was that they wanted progress made in opening up the borders to Mexico for live cattle exports. Susan Combs looked them dead in the eye.

I know this because two of the board members at the meeting told me this. She looked at them perplexed and told them as far as she knew the border was open to exports. And they assured her that it wasn't.

And then half-hearteningly, jokingly, because I've had the opportunity to hear Ms. Combs a couple of different times, and she really thinks she is kind of humorous. But she looks across the desk at them and kind of half-jokingly says, "Well look at it this way guys, at least they can't send cattle over here either." So they presented the documents to her where 1.395 million head came across in '05. And 150,000 head came across in January '06.

So there again lies the problem when you have a career politician running an office that really matters. It means something.

I intend to try and work out, negotiate with the Mexican government, to see what we can do.

Back in the days when John C. White and Jim Hightower were Commissioners problems like that never got to their office. Because they had staff in place along the border that could work out things across the border with their counterparts and it never even made it to Austin.

And I want to build that relationship back with Mexico.

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