By Stewart Doan
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, April 6 - After years of waiting, the Obama Administration is now signaling that it is ready to ratify a free trade agreement with Colombia and expand U.S. exports by more than $1.1 billion, pending Bogota’s enactment of stronger protections for labor unions. The Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) was first signed by the U.S. Trade Representative and the Colombian trade minister on Nov. 22, 2006.
During a press conference today, U.S. Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk said the opportunity to reduce barriers to U.S. exports should create new opportunities for American business and support better jobs for workers.
With aid from the U.S., the Colombian government has made great strides in training and worker safety. Photo: Agri-Pulse.
Under the deal, “more than half of our current farm exports to Colombia will become duty-free immediately, with the balance being eliminated over the next 15 years,” he emphasized.
In 2010, the U.S shipped $832 million of ag products to Colombia, the second highest total in South America.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., urged the Administration to immediately begin talks with Congress on legislation to implement the bilateral trade pact.
“Moving forward with the Colombia Free Trade Agreement will reverse the steady loss of market share that U.S. agricultural products and manufactured goods have suffered while this agreement languished,” said Baucus.
Kirk refused to give a timeline for sending the FTA to Capitol Hill, saying that would be driven by how quickly the Colombian government follows through on a series of specific commitments to improve labor rights.
Farm organizations and commodity groups offered appreciation for the Administration’s efforts to gain a level playing field for U.S. agricultural exports.
“The U.S. wheat industry is very pleased to hear the announcement today from President Barack Obama’s Administration that the United States and Colombia have successfully negotiated a way forward on our pending free trade agreement (FTA),” noted National Association of Wheat Growers President Wayne Hurst, a wheat grower from Burley, Idaho, and U.S. Wheat Associates Chairman Don Schieber, a wheat grower from Ponca City, Okla.
“This is a critical step toward being able to compete on a level playing field in one of the largest wheat markets in South America. Without this FTA, U.S. wheat farmers face a potential loss of sales currently valued at about $100 million per year.”
The provisions regarding U.S. beef in the agreement announced today are identical to the agreement signed more than four years ago, noted the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). If the agreement is ratified by Congress, Colombia would open its markets to all U.S. beef and beef products and would immediately eliminate the 80% tariff on prime and choice cuts.
NCBA President Bill Donald said with 96% of the global population living outside of the United States, it is essential to take aggressive measures to enable trade and expand market access for U.S. agriculture in order to stimulate the economy and, more importantly, feed a growing global population.
“The cattle industry can breathe a sigh of relief today as the Colombia agreement finally gets the long overdue attention it deserves,” said Donald. “This agreement has collected dust for well over four years while our trade competitors proactively sign, seal and deliver trade pacts. Most recently, Canada finalized an agreement with Colombia while we watched from the sidelines.”
The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) also complimented the Administration and Congress for their support of U.S. producers for keeping the issue of free trade on the table over these last several months.
“We are also grateful for the cooperation the Colombian government has provided the Council in helping U.S. lawmakers understand the importance of free trade agreements between the United States and these two countries,” said USGC Chairman Terry Vinduska.
For more information about the pending agreement:
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