NDTO News Article

Free Trade Agreement Update

On May 12, 2011, the House Agriculture Committee held a public hearing to examine the three pending free trade agreements between the U.S. and Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. It has been nearly four years since the agreements were signed and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) says delays to implement them are costing the U.S. in market share and access to foreign competitors.

Agriculture stands to benefit significantly from expanding exports because it is one of the most trade-dependent industries in the U.S. today. The agreements are worth more than $2.5 billion in new market access for American agricultural exports. U.S. agricultural exports currently support nearly 900,000 jobs. For every dollar of goods exported, another $1.48 is created in activities such as processing, finance, shipping, and packaging of agricultural goods.

North Dakota Congressman Rick Berg (R) says, “Passing these pending agreements is a critical step in creating jobs, getting our economy back on track, and allowing the U.S. to stay competitive in a fast-moving global market, which is why I spearheaded the House freshmen efforts to urge President Obama to swiftly sign the three pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.  As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee with jurisdiction on trade issues, I’ll be closely involved with efforts to create a dedicated and comprehensive free trade agenda.  I know from my work with the North Dakota Trade Office that a commitment to free trade holds tremendous benefits for American farmers, manufacturers and small businesses and I’ll continue to share North Dakota’s success as I work to advance these trade agreements.”

During the hearing on May 12, members of the Agriculture Committee stressed the importance of the agreements because they would make U.S. agricultural products more competitive by reducing and eventually eliminating tariffs and non-tariff import restrictions. Members also questioned U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on a timeline for implementing the three agreements. There are particular concerns that the U.S. is losing the advantages of moving first in negotiating agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea because U.S. trading partners are implementing their own trade deals with these countries.  ND Congressman Rick Berg said, “The longer it takes to ratify the agreements, the more market share and job creation we risk losing to our competitors.  Already, Panama has concluded trade agreements with Chile, Singapore and Taiwan, providing these nations’ exporters a competitive disadvantage over U.S. businesses and manufacturers, who will continue to pay higher duties.”  In addition, Korea has a free trade agreement with the European Union that will go into effect in July.

“Right now America’s farmers and ranchers are competing in the global market in the face of stiff protectionism while their foreign competitors are gaining preferential treatment and access at their expense. We must act quickly and bring these agreements to a vote before July 1. These FTAs will expand U.S. exports, create jobs, and bring much-needed income to communities across rural America. It is time for action,” said Chairman Lucas.