Kentucky lawmakers draft resolution urging Obama Administration to include burley tobacco in Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement; exclusion would be 'devastating' for state's 75,000-100,000 tobacco farmers, lawmaker says

FRANKFORT, Kentucky , February 7, 2012 () – Kentucky legislators have drafted a bipartisan resolution urging the Obama Administration to include burley tobacco in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

On Tuesday, Rep. Wilson Stone, a Democrat from Scottsville, and Sen. Paul Hornback, a Republican from Shelbyville, introduced their resolution about the agreement being negotiated by the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

Stone said farmers are worried the administration in Washington will "bow to the pressure of anti-tobacco advocates in Congress" by excluding tobacco.

Almost all of the burley tobacco grown in the United States is grown for export, Wilson said, and "Kentucky grows the highest quality of burley in the world."

Stone said he is concerned that opponents in Congress and the administration want to use the trade agreement as a way to "drive a nail in the coffin" of the tobacco industry.

"For others to try to make public policy through our trade agreements is just not right. It's not fair to farmers," Stone said.

Hornback said the exclusion would be "devastating" for Kentucky's 75,000 to 100,000 tobacco farmers.

"We need to be able to compete on a level playing field with farmers from all over the world," Hornback said.

Hornback said tobacco is important to the state's agricultural economy.

"We've already gone from a billion dollar crop down to three or four hundred million, but three or four hundred million is still very significant, especially for our small farmers in the state," he said.

Roger Thomas, director of the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy, said Gov. Steve Beshear has petitioned Kentucky's congressional delegation for action on the issue. The entire delegation has sent a letter to Trade Representative Ron Kirk protesting the possible "carving out" of tobacco.

The congressional letter to Ambassador Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, expresses "strong opposition to requests to exclude products, specifically tobacco," from the agreement. The congressmen's letter said it is their "understanding that those seeking to exclude" tobacco have misinterpreted a provision called the Doggett Amendment.

"The Doggett Amendment does not require the United States to carve tobacco out of free trade agreements," the letter said.

State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer also spoke in favor of the resolution urging the administration's support for tobacco.

"We're just going to be very vocal about encouraging them to do everything they can to support Kentucky's small family farmers, because that's what Kentucky's burley growers are," Comer said.

Comer said he was pleased there is widespread bipartisan agreement among those in Kentucky government to support tobacco farmers on the issue.

"Tobacco has to be included in this Trans-Pacific agreement or we're going to put our Kentucky burley growers at a competitive disadvantage with burley growers in other countries," he said. "It's important that we treat tobacco fairly like every other commodity and work with other commodity groups to increase tobacco exports," he said.

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