6 June 2011 - We Need Trade Agreements

In two totally separate conversations this past week, I was asked basically the same question... “Orion, why are you so concerned about finalizing trade agreements with countries like Panama, Columbia and South Korea?”

Those questions reminded me that perhaps many people have never understood or, since this debate has taken so long, have forgotten why trade agreements are important, not just to agricultural producers, but to the economy of the United States. So let me offer a refresher course with some help from Texas Congressman Kevin Brady who recently talked abut the importance of trade, and offered some reminders for all of us as we keep working on our members of Congress to make those trade agreements a reality.
The Texas congressman pointed out that 19 of 20 of the world’s consumers of food and agricultural products live outside the United States and we need to reach that market on a level playing field. That’s right, 95% of our market is outside this country.

Over the past three years farm organizations have seen the agreements get close to passage, only to run into another road block. Most recently President Obama said it was time to finalize the agreements and send them to Congress for approval, and the agricultural community cheered. But then, Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns told me last week, labor unions convinced the Democratic leadership to add a provision to the bill that would sharply increase spending for U.S. worker training programs. He said that put up yet another road block and now the future of the agreements is again in doubt.In his comments, Congressman Brady pointed out the pending agreements with those three countries would increase sales of American products by $13-billion every year. In addition, beyond the benefits for farmers and ranchers, overall economic growth in this country would increase by $10-billion and that would create 250,000 new jobs in this country.The agreement with South Korea would greatly benefit U.S. cattlemen and Sen. Johanns told me that tariffs on U.S. beef would drop from the current 40% to zero over the next 15 years. Australia currently ranks No. 1 in beef exports to Korea, we rank 4th and this agreement could certainly level this playing field.

Now, the other reason it is important to get these agreements approved is our competition, because there are trade agreements, already approved, between the European Union and South Korea as well as other countries that will give them major advantages over agricultural exports from the U.S. Those agreements will become effective in a matter of weeks and officials in Colombia and Panama say they are about to give up because of the lack of action on Capitol Hill.

So, tell your representatives in Congress to get to it. End the debate and amendments; get the Trade Agreements finalized and benefit all of us in America.