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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 9, 20174min371

A leading voice of Colorado business statewide, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, pretty reliably leans Republican on most of its policy stances even as it tries to maintain good relations with both parties at the statehouse. But there’s one issue — international trade — that divides the GOP itself in the era of Donald Trump. And CACI seems to be doing its level best to influence that ongoing debate with input from the businesses that create most Colorado jobs.

The freshman Republican president’s heartburn over free trade, and standing trade agreements in particular, are well-established. Yet, the business world’s reliance on overseas markets has been a cornerstone of the GOP’s economic vision for generations.

Hence, a case of the jitters among business types following the president’s declaration last month he is renegotiating 1994’s landmark North American Free Trade Agreement. That’s the trilateral pact that opened up Canadian and Mexican markets to U.S. goods, including agriculture. Vice-versa, as well, of course. Colorado commerce has benefited, too.

Today, CACI’s weekly e-newsletter to its many members around Colorado included this message:

CACI is asking our members to add comments to the official request for comment from the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) who will be submitting recommendations to President Trump for areas of NAFTA to negotiate.  Because many CACI members and the Colorado economy rely on our trade partners in Canada and Mexico, we encourage you to share formal or informal comments with the USTR about why these trade relationships are essential to your business.

Diplomatic but clear enough; the business community is worried. This appears to be one area where business and the administration are at loggerheads, at least, for now.

Some Republicans in Congress — still wary of crossing their theoretical party leader for all the usual political reasons — nevertheless have spoken up for free trade as well. Last month, Colorado’s junior Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner voted against confirming Trump’s pick for U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, who is a longtime critic of free trade.

Gardner issued a statement contending Lighthizer’s policies, “could hurt Colorado’s farmers and ranchers.”

The administration had that one in the bag, though; Lighthizer was confirmed by overwhelming majorities of both parties despite Gardner’s vote. There’s no suggestion Gardner’s stance has hurt his standing with the president, with whom he votes most of the time.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 12, 20172min249

One of the state’s most prominent voices for agriculture weighed in today on the side of Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner — and free trade — following his vote Thursday in the U.S. Senate against Robert Lighthizer as the Trump administration’s U.S. trade representative.

The Colorado Farm Bureau, reached for comment, provided this statement from President Don Shawcroft:

“Senator Gardner has proven yet again his commitment to the success of the families that make up Colorado agriculture, our state’s second-largest industry. Agriculture’s success or failure increasingly depends on international trade, and Colorado agriculture is no different. We look forward to working with Mr. Lighthizer and Senator Gardner to ensure Colorado’s farm and ranch families find continued success in trade with our regional partners and the rest of the world.”

It not only was a show of solidarity with Gardner but also a roundabout acknowledgment that Lighthizer — a trade lawyer, Washington veteran, onetime member of the Reagan administration and vocal critic of free trade — stands squarely on the protectionist plank of the Trump platform. It’s a facet of the Republican president’s agenda that runs afoul of traditional GOP support for business and free markets; it also arguably clashes with the interests of a lot farmers and ranchers ever in search of new markets abroad.

As we noted here shortly after the vote, Gardner was one of only three Republicans to vote no because he said the nomination was bad for Colorado agriculture. Lighthizer was confirmed by Gardner’s peers from both parties 82-14.

 



Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 11, 20174min1009

When the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly today to approve President Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. trade representative — with majorities of both parties, for a change, backing the president’s pick — Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner wasn’t among them.

Gardner was one of only three Republicans to vote no. His reason for stiff-arming his own party’s president? The nomination, he says, is bad for Colorado agriculture.

The Senate voted 82-14 to confirm Robert Lighthizer — a trade lawyer, Washington veteran, onetime member of the Reagan administration and vocal critic of free trade — to the post that is instrumental in mapping out U.S. trade policy. The lopsided support for Lighthizer in the Senate — despite bitter Democratic opposition to the president who nominated him — is said to reflect Lighthizer’s crossover appeal. Though he is a conservative Republican, his support for protectionist policies has endeared him to populist, liberal Democrats in the labor movement and elsewhere who long have denounced free trade as a job killer that only serves fat-cat shareholders in multinational corporations.

Gardner couldn’t disagree more, and he issued this statement:

“I could not support Robert Lighthizer’s nomination to become the United States Trade Representative because I’m afraid his policies could hurt Colorado’s farmers and ranchers. In light of the current agricultural crisis facing much of rural America, if we are not open to new trade opportunities, farmers and ranchers in Colorado and across the country will continue to struggle to make ends meet. We have to allow our agricultural products to flow to markets around the world and negotiate fair deals that will boost agriculture exports. Although I did not support Lighthizer’s nomination today, I am committed to working with him to advance the interests of Colorado’s agriculture community.”

Gardner was born and raised in the northeastern Colorado farm town of Yuma, and before his election to the U.S. Senate, he represented Colorado’s heavily agricultural 4th Congressional District in the U.S. House.

He joined Republican U.S. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska along with 11 Democrats in opposing LIghthizer’s nomination.

However Gardner’s vote affects his standing with the Trump team — he no doubt got a wink from the Senate GOP leadership considering the confirmation was a shoo-in — his stance arguably squares with the sensibilities of heavily Republican Colorado farmers and ranchers ever on the hunt for new markets.

Like Mark Hillman, the Republican former Colorado Senate majority and minority leader — and wheat farmer — from Burlington. Reached for comment, Hillman saw eye-to-eye with Gardner:

“As someone who grew up in a farming community, Senator Gardner well understands that limiting potential buyers for grain and livestock would be devastating to Colorado farmers and ranchers, who are already struggling to make ends meet with depressed prices,” Hillman told us.

We thought we’d also check with the Colorado Farm Bureau for its take on the development. We’ll let you know when we hear back; we’ll guess the farm bureau, too, likes to see wide-open markets for Colorado’s wide-ranging agricultural products.