The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Obama to push all three trade agreements

The Obama administration is moving forward to gain congressional approval of the three pending trade agreements, expects Congress to renew trade adjustment assistance for workers who have lost jobs due to free trade, and has granted $1 million to the U.S. Meat Export Federation to encourage meat exports to Korea, according to a memo from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative today.

In a letter to the leaders of the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees, Trade Representative Ron Kirk indicated that Colombia has taken steps to deal with U.S. concerns about labor rights, in accordance with the April 22 action plan the two countries agreed on to move to the next stage in the trade agreement process.

The USTR has begun technical discussion with congressional staff on gaining approval of the South Korea, Colombia and Panama agreements, the memo said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who has said that the beef provision of the Korean agreement does not grant U.S. producers enough access and had pushed the finish of the Colombia agreement because it benefits wheat growers, said today he is "eager to move forward" with all three agreements and the trade adjustment assistance (TAA) proposal.

Along with consideration of the trade agreements, the administration “expects to work with Congress on a strong and robust TAA renewal that supports Americans who need training and other services when their jobs are affected by trade,” the memo said. In an indication that President Obama would tie finalization of the agreements with other issues, the memo added, "TAA is a key component of our comprehensive legislative agenda for trade policy, which also includes the renewal of trade preference programs and permanent normal trade relations for Russia as that country joins the WTO.”

Kirk also sent a letter to Baucus indicating that once the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement has entered into force, the United States will request consultations with South Korea to discuss the existing beef protocol’s full application, recognizing that the trade agreement and the protocol are separate agreements.

In another indication that the administration is trying to win Baucus's enthusiastic support for the agreement, the memo said the Agriculture Department has awarded an additional $1 million of fiscal year 2011 Market Access Program funds to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, which they will use to continue promoting U.S. beef in South Korea. USDA also welcomed the federation’s creation of a 5-year, $10 million initiative for that promotion.