Yesterday, President Obama submitted to Congress free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia that are expected to increase U.S. agricultural exports by nearly $2.5 billion. The House Ways and Means Committee is expected to formally address the three trade pacts on Wednesday, which will then clear the measures for floor action.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association Manager of Legislative Affairs Kent Bacus is hopeful that the "tremendous bipartisan support" of all three FTAs in the House and Senate will push the pacts to final passage very soon. However, Bacus said he will make no assumptions about a timeline.
USDA has estimated that approval of the FTAs would increase U.S. agricultural exports by $1.9 billion, $371 million and $46 million, respectively. They also would create an estimated 20,000 U.S. jobs.
For the U.S. red meat industry alone, it is projected that the U.S.-South Korea FTA would boost U.S. beef exports to more than $1 billion per year over the 15-year implementation period -– up from $518 million in 2010, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. For pork, exports would more than double (from 2010 value) to over $400 million by 2016. Korea is currently the fourth-largest value market for both U.S. beef and pork exports and the FTA will reduce duties of 40% on beef and about 25% on pork to zero, making U.S. red meat even more competitive.
Ratification of the Colombia and Panama FTAs would add an estimated $25 million in pork exports by 2016 and about $35 million in beef exports.
Most agricultural groups are applauding the progress. Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a statement, "Now that the administration has done its part, it’s up to Congress to expedite this matter. It is vital that this process move forward to ensure the agreements will be put in place as soon as possible so we can restore a level playing field for U.S. exports to these three nations. Without these agreements, over the last four years, Korea, Colombia and Panama have opened their doors to our competitors. A further delay will provide more benefits to our competitors at the expense of our economy."
"This move by President Obama is a critical step toward passing free trade agreements that will help ensure a level playing field for U.S. exports internationally," said Philip Seng, U.S. Meat Export Federation president and CEO. "We congratulate our trade negotiators for keeping these FTAs moving forward and urge Congress to move quickly to ratify them."