Trade Agreements continue to evoke controversy and strong emotions as they have historically.
So it is not surprising that in 2005 the discussion would be heated over CAFTA-DR (Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement). Never one to shy away from controversial issues, as the Sr. Director Government Affairs Policy & Outreach for Altria Group (a $101 billion consumer products company that includes Kraft Foods) Josh led his company’s efforts in support of the congressional legislation that produced CAFTA-DR.
Altria Group was pleased with the outcome and according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative online source for CAFTA-DR:
“This agreement is creating new economic opportunities by eliminating tariffs, opening markets, reducing barriers to services, promoting transparency, and establishing state-of-the-art rules for 21st century commerce.” ¹
The negotiation over trade agreements brings out the worst and best in individuals.
And that was certainly the case for myself. Working with Altria Group, this moment was an opportunity to showcase my resolve, clarity of purpose, persuasiveness, and the scope of his ability to mobilize relations in all 435 congressional districts to achieve passage of a federal legislation that would impact his company.
Central America and the Dominican Republic are viewed as vital markets for Kraft foods. In the 2005 testimony before congress, Kraft shipments from the U.S. to CAFTA-DR countries were valued at $10.6 million.² More importantly, without a free trade agreement, Kraft was frequently at a disadvantage in buying commodities that went into its food products and variations in commodity pricing could cost Kraft hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
Discussion of CAFTA-DR stirred up a significant amount of ill-will that was fall-out from The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that President George H.W. Bush negotiated and President Clinton eventually signed in 1994.
When President George W. Bush announced that he was moving forward with the fast-track process for a free-trade agreement with this important Central American trading region, labor organizations and other groups rallied their opposition. They felt that the agreement had ultimately weakened Mexico’s economy while advancing American corporate interests.
As a result, while the President had the authority to negotiate a free-trade agreement, he still needed Senate ratification of two thirds to label it a treaty and a majority vote in both the Senate and House to ensure passage and congressional funding for administration of the treaty’s provisions.
While several national business groups were active on the issue, most companies and many state business groups simply assumed the treaty would pass and were not taking any proactive steps to advocate for it.
At the same time, opposition to CAFTA-DR was strong and included then Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who asserted that not one single Democrat in the House would support any legislation that would fund implementation of the treaty.
At the time, I managed a national field organization of 60 employees and Public Affairs firms.
Josh was asked by the VP of Government Affairs to mobilize his team to focus all of their efforts in generating support for the treaty. In most states, Josh’s team was the first on the ground to generate any kind of organized support for the treaty, while at the same time, anti-CAFTA forces were already working to derail the treaty in the Senate.
It became a priority to mobilize not only business and trade organizations but to also reach out to Hispanic and African American groups to neutralize Democratic opposition.
Ultimately, his team was responsible for generating 4,000 direct contacts with U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives.
And a number of Democrats in the House came out in favor of the treaty despite extensive pressure by the Speaker’s office.
The treaty passed by a narrow vote in both the Senate and the House.
With the passage and implementation of this agreement along with the previously enacted NAFTA, Kraft Foods achieved a major victory that would help significantly reduce operating costs at a time when the company was losing money.
In recognition of his efforts supporting the CAFTA-DR legislation, Josh received a Special Achievement Award from Kraft Foods’ parent company, Altria Group. No doubt, future Trade Agreements and negotiations will continue to evoke controversy and stir emotions. Although Josh faced a staunch opposition, he proved his ability to mobilize individuals and groups on geo-political issues on the national and the international level.
¹ Office of the United States Trade Representative Executive Office of the President. Webpage for CAFTA-DR found at http://www.ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/cafta-dr-dominican-republic-central-america-fta. Accessed May 23, 2010.
² “Food Industry Testifies in Favor of CAFTA-DR.” Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) testimony to the Senate Finance Committee in support of CAFTA-DR, April 13, 2005. Found at
http://www.gmabrands.com/news/docs/newsrelease-p.cfm?DocID=1491. Accessed May 23, 2010.