By Tim Breen

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, May 10 – Assuming the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Six” continues to hold its much anticipated long-term budget plan close to the vest, Congress watchers might content themselves this week with a look at trade agreements, rather than budget issues. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack plans to make a pitch on the Hill for stalled deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, the importance of which has been stressed by farm groups for some time.
The trade agreements were negotiated in the last few years but require congressional and presidential approval to take effect. According to the American Farm Bureau, which began a national campaign urging Congress and the President to pass all three by the end of this summer, the deals represent $2.5 billion in annual U.S. agricultural exports. The South Korea deal alone should boost U.S. agricultural trade by $1.8 billion annually, the Farm Bureau says. “These [free trade agreements] should be in the forefront of every farmer’s and rancher’s thoughts,” President Bob Stallman wrote earlier this month. 

Colombia is the leading South American export market for the United States. From 2008 to 2010, however, U.S. exports dropped by nearly half because of the stalled deal, according to the Farm Bureau. South Korea is the fifteenth largest economy and fifth largest trade market in the world, and without a completed deal there, statistics could take a similar plunge, the group says. With news of the December 2010 U.S.-South Korea deal, Vilsack said it “will open the market even more for U.S. agriculture,” where U.S. farm exports were already valued at $5 billion annually.

Still, U.S. beef, pork and rice interests, along with some lawmakers, have complained that the rate at which tariffs are lowered is too slow. The National Pork Producers Council bridled at the 2016 date for a zero tariff on pork but says it was necessary to get the deal done. For more events this week:

Monday, May 9

USDA releases its weekly crop report, listing planting, fruiting, and harvesting progress and overall condition of select crops in major producing states.

Tuesday, May 10

No events currently scheduled
Wednesday, May 11

10:00 a.m. House Committee on Natural Resources hearing: American Energy Initiative: Identifying Roadblocks to Wind and Solar Energy on Public Lands and Waters. 1324 Longworth House Office Building.

10:00 a.m. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing to examine new developments in upstream oil and gas technologies. 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

10:30 a.m. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment hearing: EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs – Part II. 2167 Rayburn House Office Building.

1:30 p.m. House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement hearing on the “Secure Visas Act,” 2141 Rayburn House Office Building.

2:30 p.m. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Subcommittee on National Parks will hold a hearing on more than 20 bills proposing acquisition of rural tracts to become public lands, and establishing projects and structures on current public lands. 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

USDA releases annual data on cotton production by state and county, crop production data for the United States, broiler hatchery data for 15 states, world agricultural supply and demand estimates, season-average price forecasts, and the latest U.S. agricultural trade data.

Thursday, May 12

9:00 a.m. House Committee on Ways and Means hearing: Need for Comprehensive Tax Reform to Help American Companies Compete in the Global Market and Create Jobs for American Workers. 1100 Longworth House Office Building.

9:30 a.m. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on two bills concerning carbon capture and sequestration. 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

10:00 a.m. House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power will mark up three bills concerning hydroelectric power and water allocations in the Southwest. 1334 Longworth House Office Building.

10:00 a.m. House Committee on Small Business, Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Regulations hearing: Green Isn’t Always Gold: Are EPA Regulations Harming Small Businesses? 2360 Rayburn House Office Building.

10:00 a.m. House Agriculture Committee: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will testify on pending trade promotion agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

USDA releases a report on cattle death losses by region, weight category, and type of operation; livestock and meat trade data; the cotton and wool outlook; rice outlook; oil crops outlook; and a U.S. agricultural trade data update.

Friday, May 13

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack will hold a renewable energy event in Boston, Mass.

USDA releases reports on dairy product prices, peanut prices, potato stocks, the wheat outlook, feed outlook, meat price spreads and aquaculture.
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