To make headway with trade, and continue to support a rising level of ag exports, more free trade agreements need to be signed. That's the word from Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns while speaking to media at the 2007 Farm Progress Show near Decatur, Ill.
"We need to get four free trade agreements approved," Johanns notes. " Columbia, Panama, Peru and [South] Korea are all important agreements."
He notes that South Korea along has a $1 trillion economy and that when a free trade agreement is approved about $1.6 billion in exports will be immediately duty free. "Panama, Peru and Colombia have 75 million people and a combined gross domestic product of $575 billion dollars. These are significant markets."
There are stumbling blocks. South Korea's continued stranglehold on U.S. beef imports will keep that free trade agreement on hold. "Congress has said they will not approve a free trade agreement without resolution of this issue," Johanns says.
Johanns sees an end to beef trade restrictions if South Korea, and Japan, will accept international animal health guidelines. The United States was classified as a controlled risk country which means all beef, boneless and otherwise, is cleared for the world market regardless of age. South Korea has a 30-month boneless beef standard, Japan is limiting animal age to 20 months. "Japan has signaled they may be willing to talk," he says.
Contingent on getting free-trade agreements through the system is Trade Promotion Authority, which gives the right for the treaties to be approved by Congress in a simple yes-no vote. "I think that every president should have Trade Promotion Authority no matter who is in office," Johanns adds. Congress has yet to renew TPA for President Bush.