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Action needed on trade agreements

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As a former cattle rancher, I understand the important role the agricultural industry has in our nation's economy. This is especially true in my home state of Arkansas, where it is the top industry in our state's economy.

It's an industry with many variables that we can't control, such as input costs, so we need to take advantage of opportunities we can control. Improving market access is one such controllable variable that is important to beef. With three pending trade agreements on the table waiting for approval, we're wasting precious time and resources at our disposal to open foreign markets to U.S. beef and other agriculture products.

I believe it is important to provide American businesses with an equal opportunity to compete and succeed while opening up new markets for American products. I strongly believe that when presented with a level playing field, American farmers and workers can out-perform any in the world in terms of quality and value.

The lack of action on the Colombia, Panama and South Korea agreements is concerning. I believe we need to move forward as quickly as possible to ratify these policies. American companies and their workers are losing market share and are being denied valuable business opportunities. That's why one of the first pieces of legislation I cosponsored as a member of the Senate was S. Res. 20, legislation that urges the chamber to consider and approve the pending trade agreements with these countries.

The Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement stands to make a big impact on the beef industry. Ninety percent of Colombian exports enter the U.S. duty-free, while U.S. agricultural, manufacturing, and services exports to Colombia face heavy tariffs and barriers to trade. Under the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, more than 50 percent of tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports to Colombia would be eliminated. Under this agreement prime and choice graded U.S. beef will receive immediate duty-free, quota-free access upon implementation of the agreement.

We need a similar comprehensive agreement with Panama that will eliminate trade barriers. U.S. agricultural exports will benefit tremendously from the U.S. Panama Free trade agreement. Details from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative reveal that Panama will immediately eliminate duties on high-quality beef. The agreement also provides duty-free access for specified volumes of standard grade beef cuts through tariff rate quotas.

South Korea could grow to be the top export market for U.S. beef with the approval of the South Korean Free Trade Agreement. Early estimates show that U.S. beef could amount to more than $1 billion in value under full implementation of the agreement.

On multiple occasions President Barack Obama expressed support for the implementation of all of these trade agreements in order to reduce our nation's trade deficit and create American jobs for American workers. In his most recent State of the Union address, the president called for quick passage of the South Korean Free Trade Agreement. This was encouraging, but now several months later, there is still a failure to act.

The millions of dollars these agreements would save American agriculture producers, businesses and manufacturers every year would be reinvested into our economy and communities, creating high-paying jobs for many Americans. Trade agreements with other countries are a vital part of our nation's role in the global economic system, and I will continue working to implement these pending trade agreements to increase American exports, slash into the trade deficit, and create jobs here in the United States.

--U.S. Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)



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