June 27, 2000
"Barshefsky's Betrayal of American Small Business"
REHA Enterprises of South Carolina used to be a success story. Built from scratch by my wife and I six years ago, it provided a comfortable living for my family of four, provided income for independent salespeople throughout the country and served a customer base of some one thousand five hundred accounts. Until recently, REHA sold bath and body care products, all imported from Europe. We are now in the process of closing.
On March 3rd, 1999, Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky imposed staggering 100% tariffs on a wide range of European products in an attempt to force the European producers of bath and other products to acquiesce to the U.S. demand to adopt a new policy governing the importation of Caribbean bananas into Europe. Not coincidentally, the products that they chose were neither represented by lobbying organizations nor had "connections" in Washington.
The effect that these tariffs have had on American small business is devastating. I have begun the liquidation of REHA Enterprises after being forced to pay $50,182.48 in increased tariffs over a nine month period, up from a manageable $2,574.74. It is not only the additional tariffs that REHA was forced to pay but the fact that there is no end in sight for Ambassador Barshefsky's retaliation. And there are thousands of other American companies suffering, straining - and often breaking - under the load of these sanctions; sanctions imposed on products not because of any wrongdoing by American businesses that import products, but because Chiquita Brands was able to buy our United States Government's trade policy.
I have since learned that the United States does not export bananas, does not import Caribbean bananas and that there are no American banana worker jobs at risk. Why then does the Office of the United States Trade Representative impose sanctions on completely unrelated products on behalf of Chiquita? The answer is that the legislative and executive branches of our government have sided with Chiquita because of their massive campaign contributions.
I have spoken to a number of small business owners who have been hurt by these sanctions but are reluctant to speak out against the government's action, fearing repercussions and retaliation. These businesses are far removed from Washington and have no relationships with their Representatives in the House or Senate let alone have had any type of dialogue with the Office of the United States Trade Representative. They know only that their duty rates have "skyrocketed" and they have been forced to "scramble" for their existence.
In a shocking development, the Wall Street Journal and others have reported that Chiquita has won yet another "special concession" in the Congress. The "carousel provision," which was pushed by the Senate on House conferees to the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, will actually permit Ambassador Barshefsky to place sanctions on an even wider range of American Companies! Both the House and Senate have passed the Africa bill containing the carousel provision, and the law was signed by President Clinton.
My company and family have no resources to Washington lobbyists or political connections inside the "Beltway." We cannot match Chiquita by pumping millions of dollars into Democratic and Republican coffers - and would not do so if we had the financial resources because the process of determining U.S. Policy because of campaign contributions is nothing less than "bribery."
Legislative attempts to protect the thousands of American companies affected must be adopted. Congressman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has introduced HR 2160 to exempt any company with less than 100 employees from the Barshefsky sanctions. Congresswoman Maxine Waters has introduced HR 1361 to lift the sanctions from all American companies regardless of size and to reimburse duties paid as a result of this immoral trade action. As American companies are straining and closing under these devastating sanctions, it is of utmost importance that Congress find a way to protect American small business from Barshefsky's sanctions by incorporating the objectives of the Menendez and Waters bills into law.
It is imperative that I attempt to publicize this injustice as soon as possible, being now forced to seek other avenues of income and employment. The issue is much larger that REHA Enterprises, or any of the companies devastated by the Barshefsky sanctions. It is evidence of dangerous rot that permeates politics in America. This rot must not be allowed to spread if we are to remain a strong, cohesive nation in which patriotism and the ideals of our founding fathers are indeed realities. Campaign contributions must not be allowed to be the prime motivating factor in the decision-making of our elected officials. The American people must know that their elected officials feel a sense of responsibility towards them. American small businesses must be allowed to prosper in order to strengthen our national character. Honor and integrity must be restored in politics and are necessary to sustain the health of our nation. The Administration's deal with Chiquita must be reversed - the Barshefsky sanctions must go.