Leaders of the U.S. wheat industry applauded President Barack Obama’s signing on Friday of three long-pending free trade agreements, with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
The agreements were passed by both chambers of Congress last week on a bipartisan basis. National Association of Wheat Growers President Wayne Hurst, a wheat farmer from Burley, Idaho, and U.S. Wheat Associates Chairman Randy Suess, a wheat farmer from Colfax, Wash., attended a ceremony Friday at the White House Rose Garden, held to mark the occasion.
Hurst, Suess and the Boards of both organizations are now urging the Administration to work closely with our trading partners to be sure the agreements enter into force as quickly as possible.
The delay in Congressional consideration of the agreements, which were signed in 2006 and 2007, has significantly hurt wheat exports, especially to Colombia.
As recently as 2007/2008, 70 percent of Colombia’s total annual wheat imports came from U.S. farmers. U.S. sales have fallen since then to a low of 46 percent of total imports. At the same time, Canada negotiated and ratified an FTA with Colombia that entered into force in August, allowing Canadian wheat to enter Colombia duty free.
“Since June, Canadian wheat exports to Colombia have doubled versus last year while U.S. wheat exports have fallen 20 percent,” Hurst said. “We need the U.S.-Colombia FTA implemented quickly to get our tariffs to zero and put us back on equal footing with Canadian wheat again.”
The FTAs with Panama and South Korea also eliminate duties on U.S. wheat. While current tariffs do not significantly affect wheat exports to those countries, research commissioned by U.S. Wheat Associates in 2010 showed that lowering barriers to trade increases the value and volume of all U.S. agricultural exports, an industry that already supports more than 800,000 U.S. jobs. As Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has stated, every $1 billion increase in exports creates more than 8,000 jobs. Liberalized trade also helps boost standards of living and quality of life for our trading partners.
“We are very pleased to see these FTAs signed into law today and we have already started the push to win back the wheat export business we lost without them,” Suess said. “Our competitors are negotiating at least 120 other bilateral trade agreements that do not include the United States. So even as we work in these markets, we will continue to urge our government to take every opportunity to expand market access for U.S. wheat and other commodities around the world.”
The U.S. wheat industry has been highly supportive of these FTAs and other free trade measures. More on the industry’s trade work is at www.wheatworld.org/trade or www.uswheat.org/whatwedo/tradepolicy.
Melissa George Kessler, NAWG, mkessler (at) wheatworld.org
Steve Mercer, U.S. Wheat, smercer (at)uswheat.org