Earlier this month a delegation of American Farm Bureau Federation leaders traveled to South America to show support for the pending free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. They met with government representatives, U.S. embassy officials, agriculture leaders and producers in both countries. According to Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman some of the government officials expressed frustration with the delay in approval.
"Here we are, you know still haven't passed the agreement and they don't understand why," Stallman said. "They negotiated in good faith, and they are ready to move forward with the agreement and yet the U.S. is not."
When it comes to trade agreements, Stallman notes the focus is often on the importance of opening new markets. In this case, he says the U.S. is losing markets by not passing these agreements.
"We've lost about $1 billion worth of agricultural sales into Colombia just because we have not finalized the free trade agreement," Stallman said. "Other countries have negotiated agreements and out competitors are getting into that marketplace and taking what should be our markets given our transportation advantage. So there is a great sense of urgency, we need to move forward as quickly as possible and be sure we at least keep those markets for us and hopefully expand them."
Stallman says there are plenty of other reasons to approve the pending trade deals as well.
"Colombia has been a partner of the United States for a long time and frankly from a foreign policy perspective we need some friends in that region of the world, I mean you've got Venezuela with Hugo Chavez right next door," Stallman said. "The other thing is even broader when you talk about trade negotiations. Here we have gone forth and negotiated with these countries and from their perspective and from our perspective in good faith, and yet after the agreement is done we let it languish and pass it. What does that say to other countries that we may want to negotiate with in terms of getting a free trade agreement or preferential agreements. I think it's kind of a reputational risk for the United States for us not to move forward and pass these agreements."
Stallman says now is the time to move forward and get the agreements sent to Congress so they can be considered on the floor. He says they've been left sitting on the table far too long.