Representatives from half a dozen agricultural organizations gathered Tuesday to push for immediate passage of the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
"A year ago these same groups met at the National Press Club to honor World Trade Month urging Congress to ratify these trade agreements," said National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Bill Donald. "And here we are again, one year later and not one of these agreements have been ratified."
Donald asked why we were sitting on the sidelines as other countries sign trade deals putting U.S. farmers and ranchers at a competitive disadvantage. He said there is no good reason and that it is time to cross the finish line on these deals.
"If Australia successfully ratifies their bilateral agreement with South Korea before the United States they will enjoy nearly a 3% tariff advantage over American beef for the next 15 years," Donald said. "That is not acceptable. Failure to implement these pending trade agreements sends the wrong message to our major export markets like China and Russia, markets with tremendous or non-existent access."
Donald says that demand will be met by someone and that it should be met by U.S. producers. He called for President Obama to send the deals to Congress immediately and for members of Congress to be ready with their yes votes.
Donald's statements were echoed by the other groups. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman says that unlike the usual message of opening markets, this debate has become more about keeping markets.
"We've gone from offense to defense," Stallman said. "We're seeing a proliferation of free trade agreements around the world and the U.S. is not a part of very many of them. These three agreements - Panama, Colombia, South Korea - gives us an opportunity to at least remain competitive with the countries out there that are trying to take our markets."
Stallman points to the change in market share in Colombia between 2008 and 2010. The U.S. dropped from a 46% share to 21% of imports. He spoke of his trip to Colombia in April and the message that importers want to buy U.S. products but the tariff disadvantage allows competitors to take over the market and the longer we wait the more we lose.
"Each $1 billion in agricultural exports creates 9,000 jobs in this country," Stallman said. "So at a time when our economy is trying to recover, at a time when every elected political leader talks about the need to create jobs, there is no excuse whatsoever for us not moving forward and passing these three agreements."