The Senate Finance Committee held a "mock mark-up" of the United States - Central America - Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) today. This proceeding serves as a public meeting from which the committee makes informal recommendations to the Bush Administration regarding the agreement.

In a non-binding vote, the Senate committee voted 11-9 in favor of passage of the agreement and considered numerous amendments. However, opponents objected to making this the final vote count, because stand-in votes were included. A final vote is expected later this evening when all members are present.

"Today’s outcome proves members of the Senate Finance Committee understand the importance of CAFTA for U.S. agriculture and our rural economy," explains Michelle Reinke, associate director of legislative affairs, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). "The favorable vote gauges the sentiment out there for immediate passage of CAFTA."

Various amendments were filed prior to the "mock" mark-up, many of which would have had major consequences for the U.S. beef industry and made major changes to the agreement.

"Cattle producers will not support amendments that could alter the effectiveness of CAFTA, and this week we alerted Senate Finance Committee members of our opposition to such amendments," says Reinke. "NCBA trade policy states that when it comes to negotiating trade agreements, no particular product or sector should be excluded. All agriculture products from all sectors should be included in these trade agreements."

Other amendments would have denied implementation of the CAFTA-DR until the Administration reaches agreements for immediate reopening of the Japan and South Korean markets to beef.

"How could anyone want to deny U.S. cattle producers the opportunity to export U.S. beef into these Central American regions, until after Japan and Korea are reopened?," asks Reinke. "It just doesn’t make sense. This would not help leverage our closed export markets and would only deny us the opportunity to export into CAFTA nations on Day One of the agreement."

The House Ways and Means Committee will hold its "mock" mark-up tomorrow (June 15th) at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time.

"NCBA will continue to be involved in these proceedings, looking out for the interests of cattle producers," says Reinke. "There is still a good possibility that CAFTA could be considered on the floor of the House and the Senate before the July 4th recess. We continue to urge cattlemen from across the country to contact their members of Congress and ask them to vote for the agreement."

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association