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Free trade gets green light from Congress

With few exceptions, agriculture and commodity groups — along with the White House, which claims the FTAs will lead to over $12 billion in new U.S. exports — have pushed hard for passage.

Congress has passed three long-stalled Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

Cast late Wednesday, the House votes for the trade deals were 262 to 167 for Colombia, 300 to 129 for Panama and 278 to 151 for South Korea. The Senate tallies were 66 to 33 for Colombia, 77 to 22 for Panama and 83 to 15 for South Korea.

For more FTA coverage, see here.

With few exceptions, agriculture and commodity groups – along with the White House, which claims the FTAs will lead to over $12 billion in new U.S. exports -- have pushed hard for passage.

Following the votes, President Obama said the deals “will significantly boost exports that bear the proud label 'Made in America,' support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the FTAs mean U.S. agriculture stands to gain “over $2.3 billion in additional exports, supporting nearly 20,000 jobs here at home. Passage of the agreements also levels the playing field and secures markets for America’s farmers, ranchers, growers and producers. Immediately upon implementation of these agreements, the majority of American products exported to Korea, Colombia and Panama will become duty-free. Swift action by Congress also helped us to maintain an advantage on competitors striking their own trade deals with these nations.

“The trade agreements will also strengthen what has been a bright spot in the American economy. With record agricultural exports supporting more than a million jobs here at home, passage of these deals will contribute to a positive U.S. trade balance, create jobs, and provide new income opportunities for our nation’s agricultural producers, small businesses, and rural communities.” 

For USDA fact sheets on each deal, see Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the agreements "will make it easier for American companies to sell their products to South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which will create jobs here at home."

After the trio of deals passed, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) said “statistics show passage of the three FTAs could create 250,000 American jobs and add an additional $13 billion annually in exports. The United States continues to be the largest producer and exporter of corn in the world, exporting 50.4 million metric tons last year.”

The NCGA also claimed the lengthy period it took to pass the FTAs allowed the European Union to broker a trade agreement with South Korea that took effect this summer. As a result, European exports with South Korea “have increased 36 percent from a year earlier.”

In Colombia, “U.S. farmers have already lost more than $1 billion in sales in the two years since that country implemented a trade deal with Argentina and Brazil. The Colombia-Canada Free Trade Agreement that took effect Aug. 15 has also put U.S. workers and farmers at a disadvantage.”

Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation president, said the deals represent some $2.5 billion in new U.S. agriculture exports and mean “we can restore a level playing field for U.S. farm exports to these three nations.

“Over the past four years, Korea, Colombia and Panama have opened their doors to our competitors. Congress and the (Obama) administration have now given us the opportunity to improve our competitive position in these markets. The economic growth generated from the agreements will improve our economy and create jobs here at home.”

The FTAs now await ratification by the governments of the three nations.

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