White House rolls trade agreements forward
The Obama administration will begin technical discussions Thursday morning with key congressional staff on the draft implementing bills and draft Statements of Administrative Action for the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
This follows the transmission Wednesday of a letter from U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees indicating that Colombia has taken the necessary steps, consistent with the April 22 milestones outlined in the “Action Plan,” namely improvements to labor rights, to move to the next stage in the process.
In conjunction with these technical discussions to finalize the text of implementing legislation for the three pending trade agreements, the White House expects to work with Congress on a Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) renewal that supports Americans who need training and other services when their jobs are negatively affected by trade. TAA includes the renewal of trade preference programs and Permanent Normal Trade Relations for Russia as that country joins the World Trade Organization.
Also on Wednesday, Kirk sent a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., indicating that once the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement has entered into force, the United States will request consultations under the existing U.S.-South Korea Beef Protocol with South Korea to discuss the protocol's full application, recognizing that the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement and the protocol are separate agreements.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded an additional $1 million of fiscal year 2011 Market Access Program (MAP) funds to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, which it will use for ongoing beef promotion in South Korea. USDA also welcomed federation’s creation of a five-year, $10 million initiative to promote U.S. beef in Korea.
Numerous trade groups applauded the administration’s latest actions.
'The FTAs were holding up other bills, principally, the Customs Reauthorization Bill, trade extenders such as the GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) program and the Andean Trade Preference Act, as well as Miscellaneous Tariff Bill II,' said Marianne Rowden, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Exporters and Importers.
'This is good news,' she added. 'It means that principal players in Congress and the administration have made a grand bargain in order to resolve critical issues impeding passage of major trade legislation.'
'The U.S. Grains Council cannot overstate the importance of these agreements as Colombia, Panama and South Korea are a strategic markets with exceptional growth potential for U.S. feed grains and co-products,' said Council Chairman Terry Vinduska, in a statement. 'We are particularly encouraged by the news on Colombia. This development is conducive to conclusions of other critical trade legislation, including the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act and the Andean Trade Preferences Act. Equally important, it sends a strong signal about the U.S. commitment to a robust trade agenda that enhances our credibility with global trade partners.'
According to the council, Colombia has traditionally been the United States' fifth-largest market for coarse grains exports, with more than 80 percent market share. That position has eroded almost 70 percent in the last three years due to preferential tariffs enjoyed by Brazil and Argentina through the Mercosur agreement. This decline has occurred despite the closer proximity of the United States and its freight transportation advantage.
'Ratification of the U.S.-Colombia agreement will eliminate the tariff constraints and price band system that has eroded the competitiveness of U.S. agricultural exports of corn and other feed grains. It will level the playing field to recover and grow this important market,' Vinduska said.
The council has worked closely with the Colombian feed, livestock and poultry industries to build capacity and increase efficiency to use U.S. coarse grain products, the council said.