The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

TAA gets ag industry support as Senate Finance heads to 'mock markup'


As a Senate Finance Committee “mock markup” of implementation legislation for the Korea, Panama and Colombia free trade agreements approaches this afternoon, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Feed Industry Association have endorsed a plan to seek congressional approval of the agreements and reauthorization of trade adjustment authority (TAA) for workers hurt by imports, even as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and some Senate Republicans continue to spar over the inclusion of TAA in the package.

Democrats and the White House have said that the only way that the agreements will move forward is if TAA is passed along with them. Earlier this week the White House and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., reached an agreement in principle to pass the agreements, TAA and other trade measures. But it is still unclear how Republican leaders in Congress will proceed.

“Combined, the three FTAs represent nearly $2.5 billion in new agriculture exports and could generate support for up to 22,500 U.S. jobs,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a statement Wednesday. “Further, passing these trade agreements would immediately eliminate most trade tariffs that have continued to plague U.S. farmers and ranchers. In addition, we believe that trade adjustment assistance, which is also up for consideration, plays an important role in advancing a bipartisan trade agenda.”

Earlier this year, Farm Bureau joined other industry associations in signing a joint letter supporting TAA.

The American Feed Industry Association also backed the plans.

“The feed industry strongly supports all three trade pacts,” President and CEO Joel G. Newman said in a statement. “We also urge Congress to act prior to the August recess.”

Newman added, “These three agreements, when ratified, represent $2.5 billion in new U.S. ag exports. It’s estimated more than 22,500 new jobs will be created as well. To delay any longer in congressional action on these trade pacts is to effectively surrender growing export markets to our trading competitors, along with the economic growth these agreements promise. The Trade Adjustment Assistance is an important part of an aggressive U.S. trade strategy, and we believe Congress should address the reauthorization of TAA at its earliest opportunity."

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has opposed reauthorization of TAA, said in a news release and in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute today that the quick scheduling of the markup and the inclusion of TAA endangers the passage of the agreements.

But a Baucus spokesman said that “Nothing could be further from the truth” than Hatch’s statements. The Finance Committee’s decision to schedule the markup at 3 p.m. today was to comply with rules requiring 48 hours to notice pending committee business, the spokesman said, who noted there was a precedent for including TAA because those provisions were added to the implementing language of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which many current members of the Senate supported.

Hatch acknowledged in his speech that NAFTA did include a TAA program, but said it was “the exception that proves the rule.”

“As a general rule, TAA does not get paired with trade agreements,” Hatch said. “And second, the rub here is that the TAA that Democrats are demanding is a modified version of an expanded TAA from the now infamous 2009 stimulus.”

Camp has said, however, that the White House agreed to a lesser TAA than the one in the 2009 stimulus bill.

Ten other Republican senators joined Hatch in writing President Obama that the inclusion of TAA would also endanger the agreements. They included former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa and Senate Agriculture ranking member Pat Roberts of Kansas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and John Thune of South Dakota.

The Business Roundtable and the Coalition of Service Industries also issued statements supporting approval of the agreements and TAA.

Meanwhile, more farm groups issued statements urging Congress to approve the agreements.

The National Pork Producers Council called for quick passage.

“It is imperative that the agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea be approved before Congress takes its month-long break,” said Doug Wolf, NPPC president and a pork producer from Lancaster, Wis. “U.S. pork producers need new and expanded market access to remain competitive in the global marketplace. And the way to get that is through free trade agreements.”

The National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates also said they were pleased the agreements are moving forward.

Wayne Hurst, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers and a wheat farmer from near Burley, Idaho, and Don Schieber, chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates and a wheat farmer from near Ponca City, Okla., said in a joint release that all three of the pacts are important to farmers who depend on exports to sell about half of the wheat they grow every year.

“The agreement with Colombia is particularly vital today because a free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada is set to go into effect in mid-August,” the statement said. “That agreement would allow Canadian wheat to enter Colombia duty-free while leaving duties on U.S. wheat in place. Passing the U.S.-Colombia FTA will help prevent lost sales estimated at $100 million each year in that important and growing market.”

National Council of Farmer Co-operatives President Chuck Conner welcomed the markup and said, “Once the administration formally sends the FTAs to Congress, both the House and Senate should take action and approve bills to implement them without any further delay.”