The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Trade pact approval talks have begun


Obama administration officials have begun discussions with congressional leaders on how to gain approval of the three pending free trade agreements — Korea, Colombia and Panama — as well as achieve the administration’s other trade goals, senior officials told reporters in a conference call today.

Michael Froman, the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, said other goals include reauthorization of trade adjustment assistance, the general system of preferences, and termination of the use of Jackson-Vanik law on Russia as it becomes a member of the World Trade Organization.

Those issues are controversial in a variety of ways. Froman said the administration wants to renew the 2009 version of trade adjustment assistance, which is viewed as “an important expansion of the program that is still very much needed to address workers that have been put out of work because of changes in the economy.”

Republicans consider the 2009 version of trade adjustment assistance expensive.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., praised the administration for Thursday’s announcement that it was ready to send the Panama agreement to Congress. A spokesman also said that Baucus is fighting for a trade adjustment assistance reauthorization and an extension of preference programs, along with the free trade agreements.

A lengthy trade debate would make it difficult to finish the agreements by July 1, when free-trade agreements between the European Union and Korea and between Canada and Latin countries go into effect. Farm leaders have said they are worried that competitors may take U.S. market share if there is not swift action on the agreements.

The officials declined to say whether they would envision each agreement coming up separately or as part of one large trade package.

President Obama will meet with President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama on April 28, the officials said.

The American Soybean Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council all praised the movement forward on the Panama agreement.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative released fact sheets on the Panama agreement that included details of U.S. agricultural sales to Panama and their potential. [See links below]

Although Panama has only about 3.2 million people, the United States exported more than $450 million of agricultural products to that nation in 2010, more than double the amount exported there in 2005, USTR said. Top U.S. exports were corn, soybean cake and meal, wheat, rice, and horticultural products.

Fact Sheets