(Aug. 8) With trade promotion authority passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, free trade agreements once again are on the fast track.

Beyond World Trade Organization talks, regional trade agreements that have been identified as priorities of the Bush administration include the Free Trade Area of the Americas and a bilateral trade agreement with Chile and Australia.

However, agricultural and produce industry leaders said in early August that the focus of the U.S. negotiating team should remain the WTO talks.

FTTA ON BACK BURNER

Limited staff resources of the U.S. Trade Representative and complications with the FTTA may put it on the back burner, one ag industry leader said.

“We have been more skeptical of the Free Trade Area of the Americas,” said Mary Kay Thatcher, director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, D.C.

Thatcher said Brazil has said it will not negotiate in the FTAA agreements unless the U.S. reduces domestic support for agriculture.

However, she said she thinks it makes no sense to unilaterally reduce its agricultural supports apart from the Doha round of the WTO talks.

Thatcher said U.S. Department of Agriculture studies indicate the FTAA agreement would result in a 1% increase in U.S. exports and 3% increase in U.S. imports.

APPLE TARIFFS

Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said the Northwest would benefit from the FTAA. Apple exporters need lower tariffs to compete with Chilean apples in Latin America.

“Getting tariffs down in Central and South America is very important to us,” he said.

Still, he acknowledged the FTAA will be secondary to the WTO.

CONCERNED IN FLORIDA

Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Orlando, said the Florida industry has much more to lose than gain with the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Particularly, growers in Florida are worried that further concessions to Latin American countries could put Florida’s orange processing industry at risk.

Delegates from 34 member nations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas are planning to meet for an international labor conference.

The conference, scheduled for Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 in Nassau, Bahamas, also is designed to help participants determine the possible impact free trade will have on member states, he said.