NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates submitted comments this week to the Office of the United States Trade Representative emphasizing the importance of a pending free trade agreement with Colombia to the wheat industry and wheat producers.
The industry’s thoughts were submitted in answer to a public comment period announced in July, which USTR Ron Kirk said on Thursday had garnered a total of more than 500 responses.
The wheat industry comments focused on the competitiveness challenges failing to finalize the agreement would cause wheat growers.
Colombia is the largest market for U.S. wheat in South America, with a U.S. market share typically around 70 percent and sales last year valued at $225 million.
However, leading competitors, notably Canada and Argentina, are poised to take more of the market due in large part to more favorable trade preferences. Wheat from Argentina already enters duty free, and Canada will also soon be ratifying a free trade agreement with the country. Colombia is also working on a free trade agreement with the European Union.
The U.S.-Colombia agreement, signed in late 2006, would provide immediate duty-free access for U.S. wheat to the Colombian market, but has been stalled due to a variety of concerns about labor and environmental issues and a political environment heavily focused on economic recovery.
In July, U.S. Wheat sponsored a trade team including Colombian wheat buyers and millers who told the media, Obama Administration and Hill offices that U.S. wheat sales to their country would likely drop by more than 50 percent if a pending free trade agreement isn’t ratified soon.
Their message has gained traction on the Hill, with 22 House Republicans citing the potential loss of wheat sales in their comments to USTR. A number of key Democrats have voiced support for the pending agreement in recent days, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.).
The NAWG and U.S. Wheat comments submitted this week are available in full at www.wheatworld.org/issues/trade