Inaction on trade agreements hurting economy, trading status

May 1 2011 - 2:00am

Agriculture exports are essential to the prosperity of the overall U.S. economy, and especially to rural communities. Unfortunately, our ability to trade openly in the world marketplace is in jeopardy. There are more than 600 bilateral and regional trade agreements in place or under negotiation worldwide. Sadly, the U.S. has a share in fewer than 25 of these trade deals.

Of great importance are three trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama that have been stalled in Congress for several years. Now, as the administration and Congress sit idly by, we are losing almost $2.5 billion per year in agricultural exports. So, why is this important for the average person?

Agricultural trade is not only critical to farmers and ranchers. It is important for the U.S. economy and the creation of American jobs. Every $1 billion in agricultural exports supports 9,000 U.S. jobs including those of transportation workers, food processors, packers, longshoremen and even sales and marketing professionals. By passing all three trade agreements, Nearly 22,500 new U.S. jobs could be created.

Passing these trade agreements also means leveling the playing field. Currently, U.S. products going into these countries face exorbitant tariffs just to get into these markets. Yet, while we pay tariffs of up to 160 percent to sell to the Colombia and Panama markets, they receive duty-free access to the U.S. market for their goods. In Korea, tariffs of up to 500 percent are placed on U.S. goods. Passing these trade agreements would immediately eliminate most of these tariffs.

Further, each day that goes by without passing the agreements provides more opportunity for other countries to negotiate their own deals. For example, while we urge the administration and Congress to expedite passage of these trade deals, the European Union is moving forward with its own Korea agreement, hoping it can beat us to the punch. Australia, Chile and Canada are also moving in and taking the potential U.S. market share in the three countries.

Our market share in Colombia has plummeted from 46 percent to 24 percent in the past several years. In Korea, the market share for Chilean wine has increased from 2.4 percent to 21.5 percent, while ours has decreased from 17.1 percent to 10.8 percent. Panama has already completed an agreement with Canada which includes beef, potato products and processed foods, while we are left out in the cold.

On a recent farmer-to-farmer trade mission I participated in to Brazil, Colombia and Panama, we learned the other nations' point of view in terms of these agreements. Roberto Henriquez Sasso, Panama's Minister of Commerce and Industries, told us that they've been "waiting for four years" and that "it's a long wait. If the U.S. has been waiting, we have not."

As long as Congress fails to act on the pending trade deals, our role as a major trading partner diminishes, as well as opportunity for U.S. job creation. That's why it's critical we urge Congress to pass the Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements today.

Leland Hogan is the ppresident of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, the largest general farm and ranch organization in Utah. Hogan recently returned from a farmer-to-farmer trade mission to Brazil, Colombia, and Panama with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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