FTAs, Cuba, Doha, & Russian poultry deal dominate Senate Ag hearing on trade

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Aug. 4 – U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk felt the heat in a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing Wednesday on trade issues. In this third hearing to prepare for writing the 2012 Farm Bill, senators told Ambassador Kirk how important it is to ratify the three long-stalled free trade agreements (FTAs) with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. They said there's urgency because other countries are signing their own FTAs, costing the U.S. both jobs and billions of dollars. But senators also insisted that “No deal, is better than a bad deal.”

Senate Ag Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) questions as Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), at right, listens in hearing
on ag trade issues to prepare for writing the 2012 Farm Bill. Photo: Senate Agriculture Committee. 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) pointed out that “For every additional one billion dollars of agricultural products we export, we can create 9,000 jobs. These are long-term jobs that we desperately need.” Along with calling for re-opening trade with Cuba, she said that “the three pending FTA’s negotiated more than three years ago with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama . . . are broadly supported by U.S. agriculture, and could add up to several billion dollars to overall U.S. agricultural exports, creating thousands of jobs in the process.”

Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) faulted the administration for it's lack of action on exports. He warned that “in order to increase agriculture exports, the administration must do more than pay lip service to initiatives that lull us into a false sense of action. The President continues to sit on the South Korea, Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements. These FTAs are ready and represent real and tangible gains for the agriculture sector in the United States. If we are serious about promoting exports, the President should submit all three and press Congress for their immediate approval.”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) found a different reason to criticize the administration. Saying “No deal, is better than a bad deal,” Baucus called on Kirk to guarantee that the administration will only finalize the Korean FTA if it includes “all beef, all ages, all cuts.” Kirk replied that “I understand your concerns for the interests of your cattlemen and ranchers” and that “this administration has never equivocated” on the need to include full compliance with OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) rules in all trade agreements.

Both Baucus and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) warned that the Senate will refuse to hold FTA hearings unless the administration makes more of an effort to promote U.S. interests in the FTAs. Specifically, Baucus said that as Senate Finance Committee Chair he will not schedule a hearing on a Korean FTA unless it includes “all beef, all ages, all cuts.”

Kirk assured the committee that as part of the administration goal of doubling U.S. exports within five years, “USTR is seeking to resolve outstanding issues on the pending agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama. These agreements hold significant opportunities for our farmers and ranchers. In 2009, Colombia was among the largest Central and South American markets for American farm exports, and Korea was our fifth largest agricultural export market. At the President’s direction, USTR is focused on resolving outstanding issues with the Korea agreement by the G20 Summit in November.”

Sen. Chambliss raised concerns about the Doha round of international trade negotiations. He warned that “While other countries look to the U.S. to ‘give more’ in order to re-energize the round, I would suggest unilateral action will harden views in the Senate, and particularly in this Committee, that the Doha Round is fatally flawed. A successful round is possible, but only when Brazil, China and India recognize that their rising influence in the international economy requires shared sacrifices in order to achieve individual and shared gains.”

Kirk agreed with Chambliss, noting that success in the Doha Round “will depend particularly on engagement by emerging markets such as China, Brazil, and India, which must make contributions commensurate with their position in the global economy.”

Kirk also said that along with its efforts to open new markets, “the Obama administration is also ensuring that American farmers and ranchers benefit more fully from existing trade agreements.” He explained that “American farmers and ranchers now have greater access to world markets because we resolved long-standing disputes and addressed other barriers to U.S. agricultural products. For instance, we succeeded in reopening the markets in Russia, China, Ukraine, Korea, Honduras and Thailand to U.S. pork and/or live hogs after the H1N1 influenza outbreak. Last year, we also took a huge step forward in a 20-year-long dispute with the EU over beef by securing significant additional access at zero duty for America’s farmers and ranchers resulting in $48 million in beef sales to the EU from the time the agreement went into force through May.”

Sen. Chambliss questioned Kirk closely about Russia tying to place new conditions on accepting U.S. poultry, including putting Russian inspectors in U.S. processing plants. Kirk responded that after the difficult process of reaching an agreement, which included President Obama's personal intervention with Russian President Medvedeve, “we felt we had this issue settled.” But he said that with Russia making new demands this week, the administration is “reaching out to the Russians again to see if we can get them to live up to the agreement they signed.”

For more on the unravelling of the Russian poultry deal, go to: www.agri-pulse.com/20100804H_Poultry_Russian_Renegs.asp

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