The Obama Administration said this week it is ready to begin technical discussions with Congressional leaders that will pave the way for consideration of three pending free trade agreements.
Both the House Agriculture Committee and the Senate Finance Committee have scheduled hearings next week on the agreements, and among those testifying at both hearings will be Gordon Stoner, the president of the Montana Grain Growers Association and a member of NAWG’s Domestic and Trade Policy Committee and Board of Directors.
Trade watchers, including in the wheat industry, are gratified by this progress – the best solid indications in some time of movement on the pacts that have lingered for more than four years.
The pending agreement with Colombia, in particular, is of great importance to wheat growers across the county. Without the agreement in place before July, when Canada is expected to implement its own trade agreement with Colombia, wheat growers could lose up to $100 million in sales in that market each year.
The Colombia agreement, which is pending along with similar pacts with Panama and South Korea, were originally negotiated by the Bush Administration under the now long-expired Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). This means that when the Administration does send them to the Hill for Congressional consideration, Congress is legally obligated to hold an up-or-down vote, without amendments, on them within 90 days.
In making the announcement this week, the office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) also said that it had notified Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) of its intention to consult with South Korea on beef trade once the U.S.-Korea agreement is complete. USTR also said USDA has awarded an additional $1 million in market development money to the U.S. Meat Export Federation for beef promotion in South Korea. These efforts helped smooth Baucus’ concerns with the pact, which has been among the many hold-ups the trio faced.
USTR also said it expects to begin discussions related to trade adjustment assistance, which provides money for those who are hurt economically by trade, in concert with discussions about the pending trade agreements.
NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates strongly support all three agreements and urge their immediate consideration. Details on the agreements’ importance to the wheat industry are at www.wheatworld.org/trade.
For more from USTR this week, please visit http://www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/press-releases/2011/may/update-pending-trade-issues.
The Senate Finance hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 11, at 10 a.m. More information is available at http://finance.senate.gov.
The House Ag hearing is set for 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 12, with more information available at http://agriculture.house.gov.