By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 30 – Hog prices tell the whole story about the relative importance of the three pending Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

In a House hearing Wednesday, National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President Doug Wolf explained that passing the new FTA with Panama would boost U.S. live hog prices $0.20 per animal and create some 213 full-time positions in the pork industry, the Colombia FTA would add $1.15 and 919 U.S. jobs, and the South Korea FTA would add $10 per hog and over 9,100 pork industry jobs. So, if passed, the three FTAs would raise hog prices some $11.35 and add over 10,200 jobs.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who chairs the House Ways & Means Trade Committee's Subcommittee on Trade, opened the hearing by pointing out that the U.S. economy as a whole stands to be a major beneficiary from closer ties with Panama since “Panama is experiencing an infrastructure building boom, due to the $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal and Panama’s growing role as a logistics hub for Latin America.” He warned that without the FTA, lucrative business will be lost to competitors since “market access depends on having our agreement in place.”

Testifying in this second in the committee's series of FTA hearings, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro agreed on the importance of the Panama FTA. She noted that “Panama is one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America, expanding by over 6% in 2010.” She also said the administration is eager to have all three pending FTA “approved by Congress as early as possible this year” and that the administration is “ready to begin work on the text of the implementing bill for the U.S.-Korea trade agreement as soon as you are able to schedule those sessions.”

Ambassador Sapiro said the administration is continuing negotiations with both Panama and Colombia to resolve “outstanding issues” to provide “protection of internationally recognized labor rights.” She noted that Panama's legislature is in the process of passing bills with important labor rights and collective bargaining provisions.

Repeating requests he made in earlier hearings, Chairman Brady called on the administration to bring all three pending FTAs to Congress by July 1 and “to begin the technical drafting with us on the Panama and Colombia agreements, just as we have begun with the South Korea agreement.”

Sapiro's response was that the Colombia and Panama FTAs will be presented to Congress only when “all of the outstanding issues are addressed.” In addition, Sapiro asked Brady to support renewing training programs for workers who lose their jobs due to imports, saying “I ask you to keep faith with America’s workers by renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance as soon as possible.”

NPPC's Doug Wolf delivered his own strong message to Sapiro in the hearing. Calling the Panama FTA “good for pork producers, good for U.S. agriculture and good for the United States,” Wolf pointed out that “The United States is now the lowest-cost pork producer in the world, and we have established ourselves as the No. 1 global exporter. But we will not stay in that position, even as the lowest- cost producer, if competitor countries cut trade deals in key markets and the U.S. does not. How could we possibly compete in a foreign market if we face tariffs that may almost double our price to consumers and our competitors are free of those tariffs?”

Wolf explained that “At this time of very tight budgets, America’s pork producers are not asking for U.S. tax dollars. We receive no subsidies and we seek no subsidies. What we are asking is that our government take actions necessary to keep us competitive in global markets so that we can retain and expand those markets and, in turn, can keep creating new U.S. jobs.” He said with so much at stake, “NPPC calls on the Obama administration to send up the implementing legislation soon and urges Congress to approve the Panama Trade Promotion Agreement and the other pending FTAs before the end of summer.”

To read the testimony from the House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing on the Panamanian Free Trade Agreement, click HERE.

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