After five years of political bickering, the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama were sent to Congress this week by President Barack Obama, drawing much praise and support from ag organizations and members of Congress. Senator Mike Johanns, R-Neb., a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture who was in that post when these agreements were signed, praised the move.
Although Johanns is pleased the agreements have been sent to Congress, he says when they will come to the floor for consideration is in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. There is some uncertainty as to when Reid will move the legislation for ratification in the Senate. Meanwhile, in the U.S. House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says ratification of these trade agreements will be top priority. All three trade agreements are scheduled to go up for a floor vote in the U.S. House next week.
Iowa corn growers urge Congress to approve pending trade agreements
"As we wait for Congress to act, U.S. corn farmers are losing important market share in other countries," said Kevin Ross, a farmer from Minden, Iowa and the current president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA). "The pending free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama represent important export market opportunities and with our current economy, this is crucial to our competitive edge."
Korea is currently the third largest corn market and has the potential to be an important market for ethanol co-products, dried distillers grains. Colombia has traditionally been one of our top 10 export markets, but is currently importing corn from U.S. competitors because of the current import duty preference. Panama is one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America with corn exports peaking in 2008 and dropping more than 20% since that time.
"As corn growers are in the field, bringing in the 2011 harvest," says Ross, "we find it frustrating to watch other nations receive access to markets. Especially when you consider our increasing corn production and the quality of corn we produce." The US is currently the largest corn producer and exporter with about 50.4 million metric tons of corn worldwide. In Iowa, exports are the third largest market for corn and co-products following livestock and ethanol.
"The ICGA is encouraging the entire Iowa congressional delegation to support quick passage of the three pending Free Trade Agreements," said Ross.
Soybean growers call for swift congressional approval of FTAs
The American Soybean Association applauds the Obama Administration for sending to Congress the implementing legislation for the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. ASA now calls on Congress to swiftly pass the FTAs so they may enter into force as soon as possible.
The trade agreements combined represent nearly $3 billion of additional agriculture exports to these trading partners. Soybean farmers look forward to increased exports of soybeans and soy products, and domestically produced livestock and poultry that consume soy.
"But these export gains can only be realized by passage and implementation of the three trade agreements. After nearly a five-year delay, we have experienced firsthand the loss of U.S. market share to competitors in those markets," says ASA president Alan Kemper, a soybean producer from Indiana. "We urge Congress and the White House to work together to take full advantage of the economic boost that these FTAs provide the American economy."
ASA has been working for a number of years toward passage of these trade agreements. ASA represents all U.S. soybean farmers on domestic and international issues of importance to the soybean industry.
Vilsack says passage means $2.3 billion in additional U.S. exports
On October 3 U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the following statement on the submission of the Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements and the benefits to the U.S. agricultural economy:
"Congress must now take action on an important part of President Obama's jobs agenda: new trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea and trade adjustment assistance to help train workers for the 21st century economy. When approved, these agreements will clear the way for new American exports around the world, help create jobs and provide new income opportunities for our nation's agricultural producers, small businesses, and rural communities. For American agriculture, passage of these agreements means over $2.3 billion in additional exports, supporting nearly 20,000 jobs here at home.
"Congress should work swiftly to pass these trade agreements. Currently, Korea, Columbia and Panama have approved or are negotiating trade agreements with a host of other nations. Completing our agreements will level the playing field and secure markets for America's farmers, ranchers, growers and producers ahead of competitors in the global marketplace.
"Over the past two years, as the nation has rebounded from the worst recession in decades, American agriculture has shattered trade records and created jobs. And these agreements will build on that success, helping provide higher incomes for producers, more opportunities for small businesses owners and jobs for folks who package, ship, and market agricultural products. If we're going to get America working again, then these trade agreements are critical. We cannot afford to leave these jobs on the table."