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In flurry of trade agreements, one abysmal 46-year failure

Bad news, good news: The U.S. dollar continues to take a beating against the Euro, the British pound, and even the Canadian “looney” … but a cheaper dollar is a shot in the arm for exports of American farm.

Commerce Department figures for September showed a strong world economy and the weak dollar boosting U.S. sales of everything from cotton to computers. It was the seventh straight month of record exports and the smallest U.S. trade deficit since May 2005.

The flip side of a puny dollar is that American consumers pay more for imported goods, which nowadays represent a major percentage of purchases. And economists caution that a weak dollar long term can have a negative effect on foreign investment in the United States, eventually adversely affecting exports.

In October, China racked up a $27.05 billion trade surplus, further fueling United States/European complaints that China's currency is unrealistically under-valued, giving them an unfair trade advantage.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration, which seemingly has never met a trade deal it didn't like, continues in its waning months to push for more free trade agreements — the latest, with Peru, just passed by the House and awaiting expected Senate approval.

Nearly half of all agricultural trade to and from the United States is now covered by free trade agreements, and more and more ag exports are of high value products rather than bulk goods.

Acting Secretary of Agriculture Charles Conner terms the Peru agreement “a very positive step, providing the momentum we need to move our trade agenda forward,” and notes that Peru is already “an important market” for American farm goods, tallying sales of $209 million in 2006.

One potentially huge market for U.S. farmers lies just 90 miles from our shores. But Cuba, which pre-Castro was the United States' biggest trading partner and a leading market for American rice and other ag products, may as well be a planet in the outer reaches of the solar system, given the administration's stubborn refusal to lighten up on trade and travel restrictions in place since 1961.

American farm organizations and ag businesses, increasingly incensed at these governmental roadblocks, showed up in large numbers at a recent trade fair in Havana, seeking ways to get a piece of the almost $2 billion Cuba spends yearly on imports of rice, wheat, poultry, livestock, and animal feeds.

Since an exception to the general trade embargo in 2000, U.S. farmers have built sales to about $500 million a year, and were anticipating that things would be even better once Fidel Castro died or ceded power.

But the Bush administration has knocked that in the head, imposing even stricter rules, chief among them that U.S. goods must be paid for, in cash, before they're shipped, which has created major logistical obstacles.

The trade and travel sanctions, the administration contends, prevent U.S. dollars from helping to support a dictatorial regime.

One can only wonder at the hypocrisy involved in refusing to begin reestablishing relations with a country that poses not the slightest threat to the United States, while funneling billions of U.S. dollars to tyrannical regimes around the globe.

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