US Trade Representative Kirk told the House Agriculture Committee that free trade agreements (FTA) with South Korea, Panama and Colombia could “certainly” be passed by August and perhaps sooner if an expanded trade adjustment assistance program is approved by Congress.
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack told the panel that almost two-thirds of US agricultural exports to Korea will be duty-free immediately on implementation of the pact, including corn, cotton, cherries, orange juice, grape juice and whey. He said the Colombia FTA is estimated to generate an increase of 44 percent in US agricultural exports to that country, noting that US exporters will get immediate duty-free treatment on products accounting for almost 70 percent of total trade on implementation of the Colombia pact.
The three agreements were negotiated by the Bush administration and have been stalled for years.
“We believe passage of trade adjustment assistance and extension of the preference programs should be a part of this broader trade agenda that we are asking Congress to approve,” Kirk told reporters under questioning after the hearing.
Two major preference programs — the Generalized System of Preferences and the Andean Trade Preference Act — have expired and the administration has called for their extensions. The US-Colombia FTA is considered the most controversial of the three because of opposition by unions.
Work on the three FTAs was jump-started on May 5 when the administration announced that Colombia had met key benchmarks in a labor action plan designed to resolve long-standing concerns on labor issues.
In addition to Ambassador Kirk and Secretary Vilsack, witnesses reporting from the National Assoc. of Wheat Growers, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Assoc., National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc. and National Pork Producers Assoc. testified in favor of the FTAs and urged prompt Congressional approval of implementing legislation.
Copies of all testimony are available at www.agriculture.house.gov.