Small Steps Seen on FTAs as Pressure, Frustration Mounts

September 8, 2011 Bookmark and Share

With Congress back from the fall recess, a looming question is becoming louder: when will three long-pending free trade agreements see action?

The agreements – negotiated with Colombia, Panama and South Korea as long as four years ago – generally enjoy bipartisan support, even while stuck in the equivalent of political muck.

The latest concerns revolve around trade adjustment assistance (TAA), which aids U.S. workers hurt by trade agreements. The Obama Administration and, thus, Congressional Democrats have insisted on simultaneous passage of TAA and the FTAs, which Republicans disagree with.

The House of Representatives took a very initial first step Wednesday toward a potential path forward by passing, via a voice vote and under suspension of the rules, legislation to renew the generalized system of preferences (GSP), which is a program designed to promote economic growth in developing countries through reduced duties.

GSP is considered non-controversial, and the bill is seen as a vehicle for TAA once it gets to the Senate.

During the recess, leaders in both parties urged quick passage of the agreements to help stimulate economic activity and create jobs, and there were some positive political rumblings toward that end.

It is likely President Barack Obama will again call for the agreements’’ passage in his address Thursday evening to a joint session of Congress, though likely without mentioning that the next formal step is for his Administration to submit agreement language to the legislative branch.

Wheat growers and other agricultural producers continue to press for immediate enactment of the agreements, particularly as other countries implement their own free trade measures.

As of mid-August, Canada’s FTA with Colombia is in place, which U.S. Wheat Associates has estimated will cost U.S. wheat producers upwards of $100 million in lost sales each year – losses that only hurt a national economy with few bright spots and agricultural producers facing a variety of weather-related disasters.

For more about the impact of the FTAs on the wheat industry, visit