Published on: 10:19AM Aug 13, 2009
Dear U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk,
The other day, after finishing War and Peace, I started to flip through the Federal Register, the daily publication of Washington’s massive bureaucracy.
Actually, that’s not true. I haven’t tried to read War and Peace. And nobody—absolutely nobody—can keep up with the Federal Register. Every day, it spews forth hundreds of pages of proposed rules and regulations on everything from widget manufacturing to trinket production. It makes War and Peace, one of the longest novels ever written, look like a board book for toddlers.
But I did learn about what appears on pages 37,759 and 37,760 in this year’s edition. You have posted a “request for comments” on free trade with Colombia.
I’d like to accept your offer. But rather than entomb my thoughts beneath the mountainous pile of paperwork that is the Federal Register, I thought I’d just send you a letter—an “open letter” for all to see.
Let me be perfectly clear about one thing: American ranchers need the Obama administration and Congress to approve this trade agreement with Colombia. We also need you to push forward on pending deals with Panama and South Korea.
Washington has sat on a fence for long enough. Do we support trading goods and services with our allies? Or are we cowering isolationists who want to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world?
Almost three years ago, the United States and Colombia signed this important trade pact. Since then, Congress has refused to give the agreement as much as a yes-or-no vote.
At long last, we need a vote—and we need a vote of “yes.” Colombia is a nation of 45 million consumers. They can’t produce all of the beef they would like to eat. They rely on foreign suppliers. Ranchers in Brazil and Canada are delighted to meet this need.
So are Americans. Yet most of our beef faces a tariff of 70 percent. That’s a high barrier to access. Under the trade agreement, however, this hurdle would immediately fall. Then it would begin to vanish over time. Farmers and other Americans who depend on exports would see benefits as well. All of us would enjoy a new market—and experience an important boost during a time of global recession.
A successful agreement with Panama also would help. For ranchers, however, the big prize is South Korea. Its population is only a little larger than Colombia’s, but the country is wealthier and it imports much more beef. Recently, we’ve exported about 5,000 metric tons of beef to South Korea per month. That’s a good figure, but also a little less than what it was a few years ago, before the scare over mad-cow disease. That unfortunate controversy cut our exports drastically. We’re still recovering.
A successful trade agreement, however, would put all of those difficulties behind us. We would sell U.S. beef to Koreans like never before. Closer economic ties might also make it easier to negotiate tricky details, such as encouraging Korea to raise its cattle-age restriction from 20 months to 30 months.
Trade is an ideal kind of economic stimulus. It doesn’t require our government to spend money that it doesn’t have. It won’t run up our national debt by a single penny. It’s the furthest thing there is from a bailout. It merely asks our government to remove politics from trade, and to let sellers in the United States find buyers in Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.
We can’t let this chance slip away. South Korea has just announced it has signed a trade pact with India. Before that, the South Koreans finished a deal with the European Union. We should not continue to dawdle as these countries gain special advantages.
I’m sure that between now and September 15, when your Federal Register comment period comes to an end, you’ll give these trade agreements a good deal of thought. And I hope that on September 16, you’ll resolve to see them passed.
Each day of delay costs Americans a little more economic opportunity.
Carol Keiser owns and manages cattle feeding operations in Kansas, Nebraska and Western Illinois. Mrs. Keiser is a Truth About Trade & Technology board member. (www.truthabouttrade.org)