Montana's senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus pushed President Obama's top trade official to move quickly on key trade issues that directly affect Montana ranchers, farmers and manufacturers. At a hearing yesterday, Baucus, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee which has sole jurisdiction over international trade, warned U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk that further delays will hurt Montana jobs.
"The time is here. The time is now. In fact, the time has passed to ratify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. It's long passed. We're losing market share hand over fist," Baucus told Kirk regarding the trade agreement with Colombia that Baucus has been fighting to pass.
Baucus recently took 15 Montana famers and business owners on a trade mission to Colombia to highlight the need to pass the trade agreement quickly.
Since President Obama has not yet submitted the agreement to Congress for approval, Montana farmers and businesses have difficulty competing with businesses from other countries that have free trade agreements with Colombia. Specifically, Canada has 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, America is likely to lose the entire Colombian wheat market. 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.
Baucus also continued pressing Kirk to secure a commitment from Korea to develop a way forward on addressing the outstanding beef issue. Baucus has said he will not support the agreement if some progress is not made.
"What am I asking for? I'm asking for Korea to consult with the United States on a path to full access. That's not asking very much. Sound science says American beef is fine, and the President did say last June that he would continue to work to expand access," Baucus pressed. "So I'm asking you: what steps are you taking to make good on that pledge?"
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.
Baucus also pushed Kirk to ensure the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, to be held in Montana this May, are a success.The APEC Trade Ministers and Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises meetings will bring cabinet-level representatives from 21 countries, along with hundreds of other officials, to Montana to discuss ways to deepen the trade and economic relationships among some of Montana's most important trading partners.
The United States was chosen among APEC's 21 member countries to host this year's summit, and Baucus fought hard to bring the Trade Ministers and Small-and-Medium-Sized Enterprises meetings to Montana. The Montana meetings are part of a series of APEC events the U.S. is hosting throughout the year in Washington, D.C., Honolulu, San Francisco, and Big Sky.
Baucus held the hearing in the Finance Committee yesterday to examine the President's 2011 trade agenda released earlier this month. During the hearing Baucus also urged Kirk to press China to protect and enforce U.S. intellectual property rights and appreciate its currency. He also pressed Kirk to continue talks to extend the Trade Adjustment Assistance program which Baucus created to provide job training and additional resources to workers and communities facing layoffs as a result of increased imports or factory shifts abroad.
All U.S. trade agreements are referred to the Finance Committee before going to the full Senate for consideration.