After a sticking point is resolved, the time for action on free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea will finally be at hand, according to industry analysts.
The discussions around the future of the three trade agreements — negotiated in 2006 and 2007 — is much more positive now than it was at the first of the year, said Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash.
“The debate in the February/March timeframe about Colombia and labor issues and those seem to be resolved,” Powers said. “Now the debate is no longer terms of the agreement and the issues with our trading partners.”
Powers said the debate now is about whether Congress will consider all three agreements as a group and pass Trade Adjustment Assistance with the free trade pacts.
“Hopefully the leadership will figure out a way to make it happen prior to the August recess,” Powers said.
Capitol Hill staff have indicated June may be the month free trade agreements will be taken up, said Bob Schramm, lobbyist with Schramm, Williams & Associates Inc., Washington, D.C.
However, President Obama has asked Congress to renew the Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers displaced by trade can continue to receive extra benefits. Republicans have objected to the $7 billion cost of the program over the next 10 years and say they want the legislation to be considered separately from the trade agreements.
President Obama is considering authorizing the trade adjustment assistance program as part of the free trade acts. That would force Republicans, who have been balking at the cost of the program, to consider the worker assistance program as part of the trade deals and vote up or down on the combined measure.
Schramm said that the Trade Adjustment Assistant is rarely used by agriculture.
“Rarely does an ag group (use it) and even more rarely it is approved,” he said.
Benefits to U.S. agriculture and other sectors from the three trade agreement have been compiled by the State Department.
U.S. agriculture exports to South Korea in 2010 totaled $5.3 billion in 2010, while agriculture exports to Colombia were $832 million and agriculture shipments to Panama $444 million.
2010 U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable exports totaled about $200 million to South Korea, $21 million to Colombia and $14 million to Panama.