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FTA Agreements Aren't Done Deal Yet

FTA Agreements Aren't Done Deal Yet
Long road remains ahead for completion of the three pending free trade agreements.

Congressional ratification of three long-pending free trade agreements key for agriculture probably won't happen until at least late summer, despite recent movement.

Ag groups have repeatedly cited July 1, when Canada and the European Union will implement competing trade deals, as the target date by which Congress should pass U.S. deals with Columbia, Panama and South Korea.           

But, while heartened that the White House has now signaled it's ready for talks on implementing bills for all three, American Farm Bureau's Chris Garza says a '90-day' statutory clock for action on Capitol Hill hasn't started yet. He says that once that implementing legislation is drafted and completed it is sent to Congress and then the trade authority clock will start to tick.

But, with less than 2-months until July 1, it seems unlikely the U.S. can beat implementation of trade deals by its competitors. Garza says Farm Bureau hopes for passage and signing of the trade deal bills by the end of this summer.

"There is a time clock though based of trade promotion authority, and that time clock is there for a reason to make sure the process is moving forward," Garza said. "But honestly at the end of the day it's in the hands of Congress and Congress themselves can move this deal however quickly they want to, even faster than what is authorized under trade promotion authority."

Despite the pressure, key factions in Congress still oppose one or more of the deals, and there are questions of how to sequence or stagger action on the three to maximize their chances for passage.  

Meantime, Senate Finance chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., who holds the fate of the FTAs in his hands, officially threw his support behind the Korea deal this week.  But, not until the White House agreed to ask for beef trade consultations with Seoul after the Korean FTA is implemented. 

"The Senator got exactly what he was hoping for at the end of the day, which was consultations with Korea on beef after the agreement comes into implementation," Garza said. "Also what USDA is doing for meat promotion and the beef industry in Korea."

Baucus has demanded Korea live up to a 2008 agreement and open its market to all ages and all cuts of U.S. beef, threatening last year to not even hold hearings on a Korea deal until Seoul complied.   The FTA would end Korea's 40% tariff on U.S. beef over 15 years, saving the U.S. industry hundreds of millions or more.

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