Nearly a decade after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect, opinions about whether or not it is successful remain a mixed bag.
The business interests that wanted to end trade barriers among the United States, Mexico and Canada are pleased while organized labor and some agriculture interests focus on what they consider lost business opportunities.
The U.S. Business and Industry Council said that trade deficit figures released last week by the Commerce Department ($435.2 billion) show the trade agreement along with creation of the World Trade Agreement and membership for China, have failed.
"The so-called free trade agreements...have not only failed to open foreign markets sufficiently to American manufactured goods, they have even erased what was once a commanding U.S. surplus in agricultural products," council President Kevin Kearns said.
But U.S. Grains Council vice chairman Terry Wolf said the deal has significantly boosted the amount of business done with Mexico.
"With the implementation of NAFTA, they are now our No. 2 customer in corn; they're our No. 1 sorghum customer," Wolf said. "It's a tremendous opportunity and it's not only at that level, but it's growing."
Some farmers in Mexico have complained they cannot produce their crops at prices cheap enough to compete with U.S. imports but Mexico Sen. Jeffrey Jones said NAFTA may be what forces Mexico to invest in labor-intense crops such as certain fruits and coffee, while also linking them into U.S. markets.
"This is where our natural trade advantage is," Jones told the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Business council officials said they would like to see immediate hearings on U.S. trade policies, and possibly a new approach to trade that centers on preservation of the U.S. industrial base
But Jones said he does not believe there will be any renegotiation of the deal from any side.
"There are a lot more winners in NAFTA ... than there are losers," he said. "So the option of renegotiating NAFTA where you already have an advantage is not feasible in my own way of seeing things."
If any change would be warranted, Jones said he'd like to see the concept of NAFTA expanded to the World Trade Organization. He notes the European Union has its own representative in addition to the European nations in the organization, while NAFTA does not.
"We need to deepen the relationship and create a real trade bloc," Jones said.
Feds create disaster aid working group
The Agriculture Department is creating a disaster-assistance working group to ensure efficient implementation of aid from a $3.1 billion package approved earlier this month by Congress.
"We want to make sure that the disaster aid implementation is a farmer friendly process, and our team is going to ensure that the program benefits reach (farmers) as quickly as possible," Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said.
Federal farm officials cannot say when sign-up for the various disaster aid programs will begin. But the working group will examine program requirements and appropriate timetables.
The working group will consist of the agriculture secretary's sub-cabinet officials, the chief economist, budget director and other career employees.
U.S., Mexico need new sugar agreement
A member of the sugar industry's Mexico Task Force urged completion of a new U.S.-Mexico agreement on sweeteners and outlined five essential elements for such an agreement.
Donald Carson, vice chairman of American Sugar Refining, told the Agriculture Department's annual Outlook Forum both countries would benefit from an agreement of cooperation. "The existing agreements are working poorly and because they are likely to lead to serious impairment or collapse of the sugar industries in both countries," he said.
The Mexico Task Force was formed by the U.S. sugar industry when Mexico and the United States entered into negotiations in an attempt to settle NAFTA disagreements over sweetener trade.
Researchers developing soy-based lubricants
The Iowa Soybean Promotion Board is funding a program that is trying to develop new lubricants made from soybean byproducts.
FS/Growmark affiliates are offering soy-based greases, base oils and additives, lubricants and specialty oils -- all made from U.S. grown soybeans. "Soybeans are locally grown, renewable, biodegradable and environmentally friendly," said Alan Karkosh, an Iowa Soybean Promotion Board director.
The production process involves crushing soybeans into a commingled oil and meal substance. The oil and meal are then separated, with oil processed into grease and lubricants, and meal used as livestock feed.
Army renews irradiation contract
The Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command renewed its contract with Food Technology Service Inc. for five more years.
Food Technology irradiates packaged and unpackaged food products for testing by the Army's Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. As part of the agreement, the company irradiates a variety of foods used by astronauts on board the space shuttle.
"Irradiated foods safely and effectively prevent food-borne illness and I am happy that our company can assist in further developing these products," Food Technology CEO Richard Hunter said.
Grains futures down on CBOT
Grain futures were mostly lower at the close of activity Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade.
Soybeans were higher on modest export sales but corn fell on poor export sales figures.
Wheat fell on weather forecasts calling for snow during the weekend in Nebraska and Kansas.
Oats were mixed.
Soybeans: Mar 5.74 up 5 1/2, May 5.73 1/4 up 5, Jul 5.69 1/2 up 3 1/2, Aug 5.59 1/4 up 2 3/4.
Corn: Mar 2.31 3/4 off 3 3/4, May 2.34 off 4, Jul 2.36 1/2 off 3 1/2, Sep 2.36 3/4 off 2 1/2.
Wheat: Mar 3.28 1/2 off 3 1/2, May 3.29 1/2 off 2 1/4, Jul 3.23 1/4 off 1, Sep 3.27 off 1.
Oats: Mar 2.09 3/4 up 1/4, May 1.99 up 1 1/4, Jul 1.86 up 1/4, Sep 1.64 off 3.
GM recalls 221,000 Cadillacs and Impalas