Montana's senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus criticized the President's 2011 Trade Agenda, released today, for failing to address Korea's continued unjustified restrictions on U.S. beef as well as the agenda's lack of a timeline or specific steps to complete the Colombia Free Trade Agreements (FTA). Baucus recently returned from a weeklong trade mission to Colombia and Brazil where he highlighted the urgent need to pass the Colombia FTA, and he urged the White House again today to quickly resolve the outstanding issues and submit the agreement to Congress for approval as soon as possible this year.
"Enacting these trade agreements is critical to creating jobs, and creating jobs is critical to growing our economy and reducing our debt," said Baucus. "It is time to develop a roadmap for increased market access for U.S. beef in Korea. And Montana ranchers, farmers and businesses can't afford to lose any further ground in the booming Colombian market. The White House needs to quickly resolve all outstanding issues so Congress can approve the trade agreements and Montana ranchers, farmers and business owners can create jobs."
Since President Obama has not yet submitted the agreement to Congress for approval, American farmers and businesses have difficulty competing with businesses from other countries that have free trade agreements with Colombia. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, with sole jurisdiction over international trade, Baucus has repeatedly pressed the White House at every level to submit the FTA to Congress. On Thursday, February 17, Baucus spoke with President Obama and pressed the importance of moving the FTA forward. That same day he questioned Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack during a Senate hearing on what is being done to move the FTA.
The week before, Baucus urged United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk to act quickly on the Colombia FTA and asked him to identify additional steps Colombia should take to address outstanding issues and to provide an expeditious timetable for moving the agreement through Congress. Last week Baucus brought 15 Montana farmers and businesspeople on a trade mission to Colombia to highlight the urgency of ratifying the agreement.
At the same time, Baucus has been pressing to secure a commitment from Korea to develop a way forward on address the outstanding beef issue and has said he will not support the agreement if some progress is not made. In April 2008, Korea agreed to open its market to all ages and cuts of American beef, consistent with international scientific standards. But despite this pledge, Korea continues to exclude imports of American beef from cattle over 30 months.
During the same hearing with Secretary Vilsack on February 17, the Secretary thanked Baucus for his longstanding advocacy on behalf of American beef producers. "Senator, thank you for those questions and obviously thank you for your continued advocacy on behalf of beef producers in this country. You've been one of their strongest advocates and I know you will continue to be," Vilsack said.
The Colombia trade agreement Baucus is fighting to pass will provide particular benefits to Montana farmers and ranchers by immediately eliminating Colombia's duties on high-quality Montana beef, wheat and barley. Colombian tariffs currently render Montana malt barley non-competitive and make Montana wheat less competitive than wheat from other countries that have trade agreements with Colombia.
Specifically, Argentina has already implemented an FTA with Colombia that gives its exports an advantage over Montana products. Canada has also passed an FTA with Colombia, set to enter into force in the next few months. If the U.S. still hasn't approved its agreement when that happens, Montana producers are likely to lose the entire Colombian wheat market. Without a U.S.-Colombia agreement in place, the overall U.S. share of the Colombian wheat market has already dropped from 73 percent in 2008 to 43 percent in 2010.
The FTA would also benefit Montana manufacturing firms by immediately eliminating duties on 80 percent of exports to Colombia, with the remainder eliminated over time. Colombian businesses can already sell the vast majority of their products in the United States without paying import duties under U.S. trade preference programs. The U.S.-Colombia FTA would level the playing field and give American businesses the same duty-free access to sell their goods in Colombia.