Agricultural interests have been trying for nearly five years to get Washington to act on three free trade agreements and finally in just over a week they have been sent to Congress and passed by significant majorities.
The trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia were each voted on separately and passed in rapid succession Wednesday, first by the House and then by the Senate. The votes in the House were 278-151 for South Korea, 300-129 for Panama and 262-167 for Colombia. In the Senate, it was 83-15 for South Korea, 77-22 for Panama and 66-33 for Colombia. The president is expected to sign them.
Farm groups were quick to praise the long-awaited action that is expected to mean increased exports for a variety of agricultural commodities.
“The three free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama provide great opportunities for America’s farmers,” said National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer of Illinois, adding that U.S. farmers have been standing by watching other nations receive increased access to these markets as the FTAs waited in limbo.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Bill Donald of Montana was pleased to see Congress put differences aside to pass the trade deals. “For too long, the trade agreements have been collecting dust,” he said, noting that cattlemen have a lot to gain when the agreements are fully implemented by reducing and eliminating import tariffs on U.S. beef imposed by Colombia (80 percent), Panama (30 percent) and South Korea (40 percent).
Pork producers also have much to gain under the agreements, according to National Pork Producers Council president Doug Wolf of Wisconsin who called passage of the FTAs “one of the greatest victories ever for the U.S. pork industry” since it is expected to add more than $11 to the price producers receive for each hog marketed.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says passage of the agreements means over $2.3 billion in additional exports for American agriculture as a whole. “Immediately upon implementation of these agreements, the majority of American products exported to Korea, Colombia and Panama will become duty-free,” said Vilsack. “With record agricultural exports supporting more than a million jobs here at home, passage of these deals will contribute to a positive U.S. trade balance, create jobs, and provide new income opportunities for our nation’s agricultural producers, small businesses, and rural communities.”
The only question is, what took so long?