UPDATED: South Korea, Panama, Colombia free trade deals pass

10/13/2011 10:20:00 AM
Chris Koger

(UPDATED COVERAGE, 2:30 p.m.) U.S. agriculture leaders welcomed Congressional ratification of free trade agreements between the U.S. and Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Negotiated five years ago, the House and Senate finally approved the free trade pacts Oct. 12, and President Obama said he will sign them.

“We’re very pleased completed those deals,” said John Keeling, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council.

He said potato producers export 15% of their crop and Korea, Colombia and Panama represent significant markets for fresh potatoes and processed potatoes.

“American crops going in were at a disadvantage because other (countries) had already negotiated free trade agreements so this really catches us up in markets where we had been losing market share,” he said Oct. 13.

The free trade deals take away duties on almost two-thirds of U.S. farm exports. American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman said in a news release that swift implementations of the free trade pacts is critical to restore a “level playing field” for U.S. growers in those markets. The Farm Bureau estimates that, taken together, the three trade agreements will account for about $2.5 billion in new agriculture exports.

Farm Bureau’s state-by-state estimates for the export gains for all 50 states show that California’s fruit, vegetable and nut exports to Korea will increase by $65 million, Colombia would see more than $1.2 million in gains, and exports to Panama would grow by $4.5 million. Florida’s export gains for the same commodities are projected at $15.4 million, while Washington state’s exports to those countries would grow $12.5 million per year.

“Our Washington State Congressional delegation fought long and hard to make sure these agreements support business, agricultural and fair labor interests,” said Matt Harris, director of governmental affairs for the Washington State Potato Commission, in a release.  “Without their support we would have had a tough hill to climb.”



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