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Published May 30, 2011, 03:20 PM

Farm groups urge trade deal passage

WASHINGTON — If Congress needs to take up trade adjustment assistance for American workers to pass the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, members should do it, five farm leaders said May 24.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — If Congress needs to take up trade adjustment assistance for American workers to pass the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, members should do it, five farm leaders said May 24.

At a news conference with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., to promote passage of the agreements, leaders of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the American Soybean Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Corn Growers Association all said the trade agreements are so valuable to agriculture they should be passed in their own right. They also stressed that U.S. producers are losing market share to other countries that already have passed free trade agreements.

But when pressed by reporters, the leaders indicated they are likely to go along with trade adjustment and some indicated it would be a good idea.

Extending adjustment assistance

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk has said that the Obama administration will not send the agreements to Capitol Hill until Congress makes plans to extend trade adjustment assistance, which has expired. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., announced May 23 that she had organized 41 senators to send a letter to President Obama urging him not to submit any trade agreements to Congress “until Congress agrees to renew a long-term extension of trade adjustment assistance to protect American families from being wiped out when their jobs are sent overseas.”

At the news conference, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said his group has supported trade adjustment assistance in the past, but that support for a new measure will depend on the details of the program. Farm leaders do not want to see “a continued moving of the goal post” to get the agreements approved in Congress, he said.

Richard Wilkins of the American Soybean Association said Congress should “do whatever is necessary for the enabling legislation to come to the Hill,” although he also said decisions about trade adjustment assistance are “above my pay grade.”

Dana Peterson of the National Association of Wheat Growers said that the wheat growers do not have a policy on trade adjustment assistance, but that the debate would be a test of the country’s willingness to retrain workers negatively affected by trade. From a trade perspective, such a program would make the country stronger, Peterson said.

Gary Niemeyer of the National Corn Growers Association said his group does not have a policy on trade adjustment assistance but that in trade agreements “there are always a lot of things to negotiate.”

Doug Wolf of the National Pork Producers Council said that trade adjustment assistance should be considered if it “has to be a part of the rule” to pass the bill.

Bill Donald of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said that if trade adjustment assistance “is an obstacle to getting this agreement passed, it needs to be resolved.”

Lucas did not address trade adjustment assistance in his statement and left before the question-and-answer period. A spokeswoman said Lucas wants to get the agreements passed as quickly as possible.

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