Reducing the barriers to international trade has been one of the major accomplishments of the 112th Congress. While many are rightfully frustrated by the lack of bipartisanship, expanding access to trade remains an all-too-rare bright spot for cooperation.
Last year, trade promotion agreements with Panama, South Korea and Colombia were signed into law with broad bipartisan support. The Panama agreement entered into force on October 31st of this year. With all three agreements now in effect, mutual economic benefits and expanded export opportunities for Nebraska goods, crops and products to these markets are now realities.
Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) also are progressing, and the latest round of talks took place in Leesburg, Virginia during September. TPP includes the United States along with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Mexico and Canada recently joined the talks, and Japan has expressed interest as well. This trade proposal would significantly increase the United States' economic ties with the Asia-Pacific region, home to some of the world's most robust economies representing more than 40 percent of global trade. TPP would allow farmers, ranchers, and other businesses in Nebraska to expand, create jobs, invest in new technology, and grow our economy through trade.
While TPP has the potential to promote American exports, time and again our producers are confronted with unjustified sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) import barriers in foreign markets. SPS measures are supposed to be used to ensure consumers are being supplied with safe food imports. However, all too often other countries impose biased, unfounded food safety regulations on U.S. agriculture products as a back-door effort to protect their domestic producers. Therefore, for our trade agreements to be meaningful for our agricultural producers, we must provide effective measures to enforce science-based regulations. I have urged U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to ensure the strongest possible SPS measures in the TPP.
Russia, for example, has a history of imposing unscientific, unfounded food safety requirements to reduce imports of American meat and poultry. This practice violates internationally established science-based standards and puts Nebraska producers at a disadvantage in the Russian market.
This week, the House passed legislation which would allow the United States to hold Russia accountable for unfair trade practices and standards. This legislation would establish permanent normal trading relations in order to give the United States leverage to enforce international standards on Russia through the World Trade Organization (WTO), of which Russia recently became a member.
Russia has the world's ninth largest economy and Nebraska exports to Russia have increased by 21 percent in the last year. By forcing Russia to play by the same rules as our other trading partners, the barriers to trade would be reduced for Nebraska goods and products including beef, pork, poultry, and even center-pivot irrigation systems in this increasingly important market.
While I and many others continue to be concerned regarding Russia's recent behavior, this legislation would provide a means to engage Russia, and has the potential to improve the complicated relationship between our two countries.
Despite our overall economic challenges, the increase in trade over the last two years has been very positive. However, there is still more to be done. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee and its Subcommittee on Trade, I will continue working to open new markets for Nebraska's workers, farmers and ranchers to sell their products abroad.