Talks are ongoing to get U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to testify before a House Agriculture Committee hearing early next year so lawmakers can press her on the Biden administration’s trade policy, says Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif.
“Obviously we need greater clarity as to what the priorities are in terms of this administration’s policy and where agriculture fits in and how they attempt to deal with both our allies and our adversaries,” Costa said during a webinar hosted Tuesday by Farmers for Free Trade. “We’ve asked (Tai) to testify before the House Agriculture Committee and I’ve asked her personally to testify before my subcommittee.”
Costa, a member of the full House panel, is also chairman of the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture subcommittee. He highlighted the struggle with the pandemic and difficulty in getting USTR leaders appointed as mitigating factors, but others on the webinar expressed frustration with the Biden administration's lack of progress on free trade agreements.
The White House has made no moves to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership with a growing number of Pacific Rim countries or follow up on unfinished free trade agreement talks with the UK and Kenya. The administration has also, as of yet, declined to start up new trade talks with China and allowed Trade Promotion Authority to expire in June.
“Over the last 10 years, U.S. progress on new trade agreements has been very modest and the outlook is not promising,” said Corn Refiners Association President and CEO John Bode, who expressed disappointment with the Trump administration for pulling the U.S. out of the TPP and the Biden administration for not agreeing to reenter the pact that China, Taiwan and the UK now say they want to join.
“Does that mean we’re standing still or are we falling behind because the rest of the world is moving forward while we sit on the sidelines?" Bode asked. "Rival trading nations have rapidly expanded trade opportunities for bilateral and multilateral trade arrangements.”
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The CRA, in conjunction with the webinar, released an internal study to show how far ahead China, the European Union, Japan and Canada are when it comes to FTAs.
The U.S. has completed four FTA’s since 2010 while China has locked in 10, Japan has completed seven and the European Union and Canada have each completed eight, according to the report titled “Trade Agreements and U.S. Competitiveness.”
Bode also stressed that the report was generous to count the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as a new FTA because “it was merely a modernization of (the North American Free Trade Agreement) that offered very little in new market access.
“The United States’ self-removal from the game to set the rules for trade in the Asia-Pacific, South America, or other promising regions of economic growth and rising consumer demand encourages potential partners to move forward without us and ensures that our trade rivals will define the path of global trade rules, standards, and practices,” the report says. “When the U.S. engages and pursues market access through bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, it demonstrates global leadership and ensures that the United States leads the way on setting global trade rules.”
FTA’s over the past decade have allowed China to benefit from “lower tariffs and other reduced trade barriers on an estimated $553 billion” in total trade, according to the report. In contrast, the total for the U.S. was $171 billion.
The Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam are all importing more grain now, but the U.S. loses a lot of that business because of tariffs and other barriers that could be removed with FTAs, said Manuel Sanchez, a director for the U.S. Grains Council.
“The time to act is now,” Sanchez said during the webinar. “We need FTAs to access growth markets like Vietnam, like Indonesia, like India.”
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