The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Farmers Union votes against Korea pact after USTR snub


SAN ANTONIO — The National Farmers Union has voted to oppose the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, partly because the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative did not send an official to their convention here to discuss trade, Farmers Union President Roger Johnson told The Hagstrom Report.

The Farmers Union policy committee had recommended that the organization break with its usual opposition to free trade agreements and support the Korea pact, but delegates to the convention instead voted Tuesday for a substitute amendment to continue opposition to all trade agreements that include a range of provisions that NFU finds objectionable.

The policy committee had recommended backing the agreement because it did include increased access for U.S. agricultural products. John Hanson of the Nebraska Farmers Union put forward the substitute resolution opposing the Korea agreements on the grounds that Korea is a currency manipulator and the agreement contains provisions found in the North American and Central American free trade agreements on foreign investor and service investor provisions and labor rights that NFU finds objectionable.

When no one from USTR attended the convention, "I was not surprised at what the delegates did on trade," Johnson said in an interview late Tuesday. He explained that a trade panel at the convention "was designed specifically to give the best of both sides," with a USTR representative and Barry Carpenter from the National Meat Association on the pro side and Lori Wallach of Public Citizen and Mike Stumo of the Coalition for a Prosperous America in opposition.

Islam Siddiqui, the chief agriculture trade negotiator at USTR, was invited to speak at the convention, Johnson said. When Siddiqui said he could not attend, Johnson said he told him USTR should send a substitute to make the case for trade agreements. Johnson particularly wanted a USTR representative to discuss general trade issues, he said, because most farm trade lobbyists talk only about the impacts of agreements on their own products.

At the panel discussion Monday, Wallach presented a particularly vigorous opposition to the Korea-U.S. agreement, noting that it does nothing to address currency manipulation. Citing a U.S. International Trade Commission study, Wallach said that, while meats led by beef would gain, other agricultural products may lose.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative did not return an email requesting comment.

An endorsement from NFU might have helped the Obama administration with its campaign to convince Congress to approve the Korea agreement as a stand-alone measure. Congressional Republicans have said that President Obama should send the agreement to Capitol Hill with the Colombia and Panama agreements.

Labor groups have objected to the Colombian agreement because labor organizers in that country have been killed, and Obama adminsitration officials have said neither the Colombia nor Panama agreement is ready to be sent to Congress. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., has said that he is not satsified with the amount of increased access for beef in the Korea agreement. Baucus has said he wants the Colombia agreement sent along with the Korea agreement because U.S. wheat growers have been losing market share in Colombia.

When neither Siddiqui nor anyone else from USTR attended the convention, NFU approved a resolution that also said the Democratic-leaning farm group will not support the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Obama administration has been pushing unless dairy is exempt from the negotiations between the United States and New Zealand, which does not contain the NAFTA-CAFTA provisions.