President Obama sent the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama to Congress on Monday. They have been pending since they were signed five years ago and finally Congress has the chance to ratify the agreements.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urged Congress to act quickly on the agreements. He says passage would mean over $2.3 billion in additional exports and support 20,000 jobs in the U.S. Also while these deals have been languishing, the countries have approved or are negotiating trade agreements with other nations.
A lot of groups have voiced their approval of action finally taking place on the pending agreements. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman says it's imperative that the process moves forward so the agreements are put into place as soon as possible.
Bill McDonald, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, called the move encouraging and characterized it as the biggest leap forward seen since the agreements were negotiated. While they hope for passage soon, NCBA Manager of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus says they aren't making any assumptions on the timeline.
"Given the history of these trade agreements, which have fallen victim to political games on several occasions, we are not about to make any projections," said Bacus. "Farmers and ranchers need these agreements. Our economy needs these agreements. We need Congress to pass these job-generating trade pacts as soon as possible."
The National Pork Producers Council and the American Soybean Association also lent their voices in support of Monday's action and are calling upon Congress to act swiftly to pass the agreements. According to Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes, the deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, when fully implemented, would add more than $11 to the price producers receive for each hog and generate more than 10,000 pork industry jobs. Additional soybean exports as a result of these deals could represent nearly $3 billion.
"All three of these FTAs will give U.S. farmers, ranchers, and their co-ops greater access to key export markets for both commodities and value-added products," said Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. "With over 95% of consumers living outside of the U.S., these agreements are an important step in expanding trade opportunities for American agriculture. Every day that we postpone passage and implementation of these agreements increases the risk that America's farmers and agricultural co-ops will lose market share in these countries to producers in other nations."
Statements of support were also issued by the U.S. Meat Export Federation, National Corn Growers Association, U.S. Wheat Associates, and the National Association of Wheat Growers.
However not everyone is happy about the trade agreements being sent to Congress. The National Farmers Union issued a statement strongly encouraging members of Congress to oppose passage of the free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
“These three agreements are similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement and Central American Free Trade Agreement," NFU President Roger Johnson said. "Both of those agreements have worsened the U.S. trade deficit, because the U.S. does not compete on a level playing field with other nations. America adheres to higher labor and environmental standards than other nations, so U.S. companies incur costs that companies in other nations do not."
Johnson went on to say that agriculture has been one of the few sectors of the U.S. trade economy that consistently has a trade surplus. According to Johnson agriculture has had a positive trade balance every year since 1900. He says with countries that the U.S. has a trade agreement; U.S. agriculture has a net trade deficit in seven of the past eight years.