Farm groups support trade deals

WASHINGTON -- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., tried to proceed with a bipartisan plan to approve the trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama June 30, but Republican members of his committee boycotted a meetin...

WASHINGTON -- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., tried to proceed with a bipartisan plan to approve the trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama June 30, but Republican members of his committee boycotted a meeting to consider it.

Many farm groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation had endorsed the deal to move the long-sought free trade agreements along with trade adjustment assistance for workers and farmers who have been hurt by free trade. In general, the Republicans wanted the trade agreements to pass and the Democrats wanted to make sure that training for unemployed workers also passed.

Baucus and the White House announced June 28 that they had reached a deal with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., to approve the three pending agreements and reauthorize TAA. Republicans did not really want to reauthorize the TAA program, but Camp said he had won some concessions on how much it would cost and how long it would last.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Feed Industry Association and other major farm and business groups supported the deal to pass both the agreements and TAA.

"Combined, the three FTAs represent nearly $2.5 billion in new agriculture exports and could generate support for up to 22,500 U.S. jobs," American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a statement. "Further, passing these trade agreements would immediately eliminate most trade tariffs that have continued to plague U.S. farmers and ranchers. In addition, we believe that trade adjustment assistance, which is also up for consideration, plays an important role in advancing a bipartisan trade agenda."


Earlier this year, Farm Bureau joined other industry associations in signing a joint letter supporting TAA, Stallman noted.

"The feed industry strongly supports all three trade pacts," AFIA President and CEO Joel G. Newman said in a statement. "We also urge Congress to act prior to the August recess."

Newman added, "These three agreements, when ratified, represent $2.5 billion in new U.S. ag exports. It's estimated more than 22,500 new jobs will be created as well. To delay any longer in congressional action on these trade pacts is to effectively surrender growing export markets to our trading competitors, along with the economic growth these agreements promise. The trade adjustment assistance is an important part of an aggressive U.S. trade strategy, and we believe Congress should address the reauthorization of TAA at its earliest opportunity."

Many commodity groups and meat industry groups also announced support for the trade agreements.

Republican opposition

But congressional Republicans objected on procedural grounds.

Free trade agreements must be voted up or down, but before Congress considers each one, the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees hold what is called a "mock markup" so that members can present amendments they would like to add. The Executive branch then takes those amendments into consideration when it writes the formal implementing legislation on which Congress is supposed to vote up or down.

Baucus announced June 28 that he would hold a markup two days later on June 30, and this seemed to anger Republicans, though they had been pushing the administration for two years to complete the agreements and send them forward for congressional consideration.


Camp said the timing remained up to the House leadership, but he also claimed that Republicans had won some concessions from the White House on TAA.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he would hold separate votes on the free trade agreements and the benefits program, The New York Times reported, adding that this process, even if all four pieces pass, would terminate a fast track or trade promotion authority that allows for the rapid approval of trade agreements, leaving the package much more vulnerable to Senate opposition.

"We have long said that TAA -- even this scaled-back version -- should be dealt with separately from the trade agreements, and that is how we expect to proceed," said Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesman, the Times reported.

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, objected to both the timing of the markup and the inclusion of TAA and led his fellow Republicans on the committee to boycott the meeting that Baucus scheduled June 28. Under Senate rules, at least one member of the minority has to be present, so the meeting could not proceed.

When Democrats met for the "mock markup,d" Baucus said he was "very disappointed" the Republicans did not show up and that their unwillingness to consider the legislation would cause a delay in its passage. Baucus said he would arrange another meeting "when I think we can be effective. "We'll prevail because we have to," he said.

Hatch, who organized a Republican news conference at the time of the markup, said Democrats were not allowing enough time for consideration of amendments.

In a reference to TAA Hatch said, "Instead of allowing the White House to jam a domestic spending bill by abusing trade rules at a late-day markup, Senate Finance Committee Republicans exercised their minority rights and opted to delay for adequate time to fully examine the trade pacts, and the Trade Adjustment Assistance proposal recently made public."

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk noted in a statement that Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee repeatedly have called on the Obama administration to send these agreements to Congress for a vote.


"Today the agreements were there -- and Senate Finance Committee Republicans were not. Americans need their leaders at work -- in their seats, eyes on the ball, pushing every day to enact policies that create jobs here at home, advance this country's economic recovery, and help our working families," Kirk said.

House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin, D-Mich., said he favors the South Korean and Panama agreements, but still thinks the Colombia agreement should contain stronger protection for unionized workers.

Industry groups:

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The National Pork Producers Council called for quick passage.

"It is imperative that the agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea be approved before Congress takes its monthlong break," said Doug Wolf, NPPC president and a pork producer from Lancaster, Wis. "U.S. pork producers need new and expanded market access to remain competitive in the global marketplace. And the way to get that is through free trade agreements."

The National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates also said they were pleased the agreements are moving forward.

Wayne Hurst, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers and a wheat farmer from near Burley, Idaho, and Don Schieber, chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates and a wheat farmer from near Ponca City, Okla., said in a joint release that all three pacts are important to farmers who depend on exports to sell about half of the wheat they grow every year.


"The agreement with Colombia is particularly vital today because a free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada is set to go into effect in mid-August," the statement said. "That agreement would allow Canadian wheat to enter Colombia duty-free while leaving duties on U.S. wheat in place. Passing the U.S.-Colombia FTA will help prevent lost sales estimated at $100 million each year in that important and growing market."

National Council of Farmer Co-operatives President Chuck Conner welcomed the markup and said, "Once the administration formally sends the FTAs to Congress, both the House and Senate should take action and approve bills to implement them without any further delay."

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