EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. – A proposed trade agreement with Central America that angered sugar beet farmers would be defeated if John Kerry (search) is elected president, said U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (search), D-Minn.
"I've been going back and forth with Sen. Kerry's campaign for the last six weeks," Peterson said at a news conference Wednesday. "I was finally able to get a letter from Sen. Kerry ... if he's elected, CAFTA (search) will be scrapped. This agreement will not go forward."
Sugar beet farmers oppose the agreement because it would reduce trade tariffs between the United States and several Central American countries. Peterson had said he would not support Kerry until the Democratic candidate took a firm stance against CAFTA.
Kerry wrote that he believes any negotiations on sugar should be done through the World Trade Organization (search), Peterson said. "Sen. Kerry has finally seen the light," he said.
Jason Furman, the Kerry campaign's economic policy director, said the senator would re-negotiate the deal if elected. Specifically, "Kerry thinks the best place to deal with sugar is in the WTO," Furman said.
Kerry's CAFTA letter should persuade sugar beet producers to vote for the Democrat, said Paul Driscoll, a Red River Valley farmer who supported Bush in 2000.
"We were looking for someone we would feel comfortable with voting for and now I think we've found that person," Driscoll said.
The Bush/Cheney campaign issued a statement from U.S. Rep. Gil Gutknecht that accused Kerry of changing his position on the issue for political gain.
"In the last 10 years, Sen. Kerry has sponsored legislation and voted five times to gut the U.S. sugar program," said Gutknecht, R-Minn. "Now, when he needs votes in Minnesota, he's suddenly concerned about sugar. The bottom line is you can't trust Sen. Kerry."
President Bush carried Minnesota's rural 7th district in 2000, but some farmers are now having second thoughts, said farmer Roger Hagen.
"This is making me think a little bit harder about who I support for president," said Hagen, who hosted the news conference. "I am on the fence."