Congressman Jim Costa (D-Calif.) voted Wednesday evening in support of trade agreements with Korea, Panama, and Colombia that will help the United States better compete globally. The House also approved legislation with Costa's support to extend the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (TAA), which provides benefits to workers impacted by the possible adverse effects of trade expansion.
"Our current trade situation is neither free nor fair," said Costa. "Improving access to these emerging markets means new markets for agricultural products grown in our Valley and jobs for the Californians who grow, harvest and process them. Our long-term economic recovery depends in part on ensuring products grown and made in America can freely reach foreign markets."
Agriculture stands to gain more than almost any other industry under the new trade agreements. The trade pact with South Korea reduces the barriers on the export of American goods to the world's 13th largest economy. The South Korean Free Trade Agreement alone is estimated to boost U.S. agricultural exports by at least $1.9 billion by eliminating tariffs ranging from 8 to 144 percent and other barriers to trade on most agricultural products.
This agreement expands opportunities for the export of specialty crops that are grown right in the San Joaquin Valley. Specifically, the South Korean pact clears the way for the immediate elimination of tariffs on American-grown raisins, asparagus, almonds, pistachios, wine and certain types of tomatoes. It also begins the phased in reduction of tariffs on grapes, various dairy products, beef and citrus.
Approval of the Panama trade deal expands access for American goods to the fastest growing economy in Latin America. This agreement leads to the immediate elimination of half the tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports, including high-quality beef, almost all fruit and fruit products, cotton and many processed products. Tariffs on poultry, rice, and dairy products currently face tariffs ranging from 7 to 260 percent but these levels will be drastically reduced under the new agreement.
The agreement with Colombia will eliminate most barriers to trade for U.S. products entering Central and South America's third largest economy and strengthen our ties with a key ally in the region.
The administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama worked to make the agreements the best possible deal for American workers. South Korea, Panama and Colombia have committed to protect workers' rights and help create a level playing field for American workers. The countries have also affirmed that all workers have the right to join a union, to collectively bargain, to eliminate all forms of forced labor, to effectively combat child labor and to eliminate employment discrimination.
The U.S. Senate is expected to approve the agreements later Wednesday evening and has already passed the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act extension. The three agreements and the TAA extension await signature from President Obama.