Both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee approved in mock mark-ups this week language to implement three pending free trade agreements, just days after a purported deal to move the FTAs toward final passage fell apart.
The House Committee passed by a 22 to 15 vote language for implementation of the South Korea agreement; by a 22 to 15 vote language for implementation of the Panama agreement; and by a 22 to 14 vote language for implementation of the Colombia agreement. The Committee did not consider any language addressing renewal of trade adjustment assistance (TAA), the key sticking point in recent weeks.
The Senate Committee passed by a 13 to 11 vote language for implementation of the South Korea agreement and renewal of TAA; by a 22 to 2 vote language to implement the Panama agreement; and by an 18 to 6 vote language to implement the Colombia agreement.
Neither Committee adopted amendments to the proposed legislative text and, as the vote tallies attest, much of the voting was done along party lines despite bipartisan support for the trade measures.
Language approved in the mock mark-up process does not move forward as a formal bill. Still, the sessions are opportunities for Members of Congress to signal to Administration officials what Congress does or does not want included in draft implementation language sent to the Hill for final consideration. They are also signs of progress in a process that, for the currently-pending agreements, has taken upwards of four years.
Farmer leaders of NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates applauded the forward movement in a statement released Thursday.
“We were pleased to see leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate take a step forward today with the three free trade agreements our country has negotiated with Colombia, Panama and South Korea,” said NAWG President Wayne Hurst and U.S. Wheat Associates Chairman Don Schieber.
“We understand the political aspects of how these agreements move toward ratification are complicated. But, for wheat growers, these agreements aren’t complicated at all: they mean reduced barriers to our products, help maintaining markets we’ve built over time and higher wheat prices.
“Immediate passage of the three pending free trade agreements remains of utmost importance for wheat growers across the country, the agriculture industry and the U.S. economy. We urge all officials to work toward their resolutions as soon as possible.”
NAWG, U.S. Wheat Associates and most mainstream agriculture organizations are strongly supportive of immediate passage of the pending agreements, which will help maintain and grow agricultural exports.
For wheat, the Colombia agreement is particularly vital. A free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada is set to go into effect in mid-August, which would allow Canadian wheat to enter the South American country duty free – a benefit Argentinean wheat already enjoys. U.S. Wheat Associates has estimated that passing the U.S.-Colombia FTA will help prevent lost sales of $100 million each year in that important and growing market.
Much more about the importance of trade to the wheat industry is at www.wheatworld.org/trade.