The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Baucus, Brady, Merrigan celebrate trade agreements

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan all celebrated the congressional approval of the free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama on Friday.

In a telephone call organized by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Baucus particularly praised the Korea agreement because it would reduce the tariff on U.S. beef from 40 percent to zero over 15 years.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Baucus also said he had insisted that the Obama administration improve the provisions for beef. The administration “was stalling me,” emphasizing the importance of auto negotiations, Baucus said, adding, “I got the president put out with me.”

But Baucus said he won a provision that says the Koreans will enter discussions with the United States about the age of the animals from which beef can come into their country. Since the discovery of mad cow disease in the United States, Korea has restricted beef from the United States to that from younger animals.

Baucus also noted that at his insistence the Obama administration agreed to increase U.S. promotion funds for selling beef in Korea.

Baucus urged the beef industry to “to look east across the Pacific” and help negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement to further increase its markets. Noting that Vietnam is now the seventh or eighth largest market for U.S. beef, Baucus said he hopes that other Asian countries will see the U.S. agreement with Korea as a template for further negotiations.

But he also warned, “It takes a lot of hard work. No country altruistically knocks down its trade barrier.”

Of the statements by Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., that the agreements are not good for the United States, Baucus said he believes that they are good for Montana, but that in the United States everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

Brady said he agreed with Baucus that the industry needs to look to Asia, but also noted that President Barack Obama wants to bring Russia into the World Trade Organization. But before that can happen, Brady warned that the Russians “have to get agriculture right” and stop using scientific rules to keep out imports.

Deputy Ag Secretary Kathleen Merrigan
In a separate call to reporters, Merrigan, who is often associated with small farm groups that are critical of free trade, said she was so excited about the trade agreements she was “doing a jig.”

“This is a celebratory week for American agriculture,” Merrigan said. “There is nothing about these agreements that cut the wrong way for us.”

Adding that the agreements would be good for both specialty crops and program crops grown in Kansas, Merrigan said the agreements would help reach Obama’s goal of doubling U.S. exports.

“If we are really going to double exports from what is already a [positive] balance of trade [in agriculture], these trade agreements are just essential,” she said.