Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified before a House Ag Committee Hearing Thursday that was focused on the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Citing the record trend in agricultural exports, now expected to hit $135.5 billion this year, Vilsack said the pending trade agreements will help continue that success story. According to the Secretary, agriculture is now supporting more than 1.1 million jobs nationwide.
Vilsack said the pending FTAs, through agricultural exports alone, will yield over $2.3 billion in sales and help support more than 19,000 American jobs in agriculture and related industries. He said the Korea agreement alone is expected to increase U.S. agricultural sales by $1.9 billion, and pending agreements with Colombia and Panama will also increase U.S. ag sales.
"It is critical for U.S. agriculture that we work together to move the three pending trade agreements," Vilsack said. "We can level the playing field with some competitors. These deals will also secure better markets for U.S. agriculture ahead of others."
Vilsack urged Congress to act swiftly to approve these trade agreements. However the administration may be setting pre-conditions for formally sending the FTAs to Congress for approval. As Vilsack stressed the need to level the playing field with U.S. competitors, U.S. Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk suggested the White House may be set such conditions as help for U.S. workers displaced by trade.
Many lawmakers are complaining that such add-ons to the technical talks will further delay congressional action past a key July 1 target when the EU, Canada and others implement trade deals with U.S. FTA partners. Kirk would not set a hard FTA deadline as an action plan with Colombia plays out on labor rights and protections. Kirk says it will be up to President Obama when to formally submit the agreements to Congress - though when pressed - he said it might be possible to get the FTAs passed by August or sooner - though that would be up to lawmakers.