By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn
From its beginning as a state, Texas has prospered through trade. Texans work hard and efficiently, and what we produce is highly valued around the globe.
In the early days of Texas statehood, cotton was king, and most of it was exported to mills abroad. Then came the Texas cowboy and cattle drive era, the beginning of our international beef industry.
Today, Texas leads all states in exports of goods, ranging from agricultural products to computer and electronic equipment, and we don’t do badly in services—such as gas and oil technology. Exports are the difference between sustainability and prosperity for our agriculture sector—they’ve helped keep farms and ranches thriving across our state.
Some 23 percent of our agricultural production is sent abroad. That includes two-thirds of our cotton crop (it’s still our biggest money-maker), two-thirds of our rice, one-third of our peanuts and virtually every bushel of wheat. The Texas economy is outpacing the U.S. economy, and exports are a major reason.
That’s why Texans should all be concerned when Washington politics stops a sound foreign trade agreement, as it did this spring. The U.S. House Democratic leadership found a procedural loophole to stall indefinitely an accord with Colombia, at least until after the election this fall.
One special interest group applauded this reckless decision—U.S. labor unions. Other groups with a broader view condemned it as short-sighted, particularly for U.S. foreign policy. Non-partisan experts all over the country, including in Texas, joined in the criticism.
Texas jobs are not the only interest at stake. Colombia, a large and important democracy in Latin America, has been a steadfast U.S. ally in the war against drugs and narco-terrorists. The House leadership’s action gives the appearance that the U.S. is a fair-weather partner, and does not honor its promises to those who help us. It indicates we are not trustworthy in trade negotiations.
The decision to kill the accord will also buttress Hugo Chavez, the authoritarian ruler of nearby Venezuela, who provides regular support to drug traffickers and terrorists targeting the U.S. These are not idle threats. Some Chavez-backed leftist guerrillas in Ecuador were recently found with 66 pounds of uranium.
Chavez is assembling an anti-U.S. coalition in Latin America and beyond. Congress’s shortsightedness will doubtless bolster his credibility.
It’s impossible to measure precisely the damage from this episode on the Texas economy. Currently, most Colombian goods enter the U.S. without any tariff. But U.S. exports are now subject to substantial tariffs in Colombia.
Last year, Texas manufacturers and farmers sold $2.3 billion worth of products to Colombia, despite tariffs as high as 15 percent for computers and electronic equipment, and 20 percent for machinery.
The situation is even more one-sided for some agriculture products. Texas beef producers now face an 80 percent tariff to sell in Colombia. Needless to say, they don’t sell significant product.
Wiping away those tariffs would increase Texas exports to Colombia significantly, a move that would lead to additional job opportunity and economic activity in virtually every part of Texas. I will do what I can to reverse the House leadership’s decision, and get an up-or-down vote on our proposed trade agreement with Colombia.
Sen. Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee. Cornyn served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice and Bexar County District Judge. For Sen. Cornyn’s previous Texas Times columns: www.cornyn.senate.gov/column.