Deal would remove tariffs on two-thirds of U.S. ag exports

to South Korea

By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

With some accusing the Obama administration of dragging its feet, farm groups are urging that a long-awaited trade deal with South Korea be sent to Congress for approval.

In comments sent recently to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the American Farm Bureau Federation urged the administration "to not delay" a deal with South Korea that could be worth more than $1.8 billion annually to U.S. agriculture producers.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association echoed the sentiments, arguing that South Korea is moving ahead with other free trade agreements involving Australia and the European Union, both major meat exporters and U.S. competitors.

Gregg Doud, the NCBA's chief economist, said he believes the Obama administration is hesitant to ink the deal because of labor unions' distaste for free trade pacts.

"The administration knows full well that organized labor doesn't want these agreements," Doud said. "A letter went out this week from a whole bevy of them who don't want these agreements.

"I think we're just continuing to remind people ... that every day we don't have these agreements, it costs us money," he said.

National Pork Board consultant Steve Meyer, president of Paragon Economics in Adel, Iowa, agrees.

"I don't think there's any question about that," he said of whether the administration is dragging its feet. "It was Congress that dragged its feet on it until the change in administrations. I don't think anybody has tried to push it through since then. ... I wouldn't argue with the conclusion that it's because of the power of labor unions with this administration."

The Farm Bureau is also pushing for ratification of a proposed trade deal with Colombia, arguing it would eliminate Colombian import duties on agricultural and processed food products that average roughly 30 percent.

Officials from Kirk's office and the USDA did not respond to requests for comment about the trade deals, which were reached several years ago by then-President George W. Bush.

In a news release, Kirk's office said it will study the public submissions, which will inform continuing discussions with Congress and trading partners.

The top U.S. trade envoy said in mid-September that he had received more than 500 comments about the trade pacts with South Korea and Colombia, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported. President Barack Obama has signaled his commitment to the deals, but the U.S. has said it is taking a fresh look at whether South Korea is giving U.S. automakers enough access under the pending pact, the AFP reported.

Under the Korean deal, referred to as the KORUS FTA, almost two-thirds of current U.S. agricultural exports to that country would become duty-free immediately. Those products would include wheat, corn, soybeans and cotton, the Farm Bureau stated.

Currently, the South Korean tariff on beef is about 40 percent, while the tariff on dairy products is about 176 percent and is about 22 percent for pork, said Chris Garza, the American Farm Bureau Federation's senior director of congressional relations.

"Whether it's pork, beef, grains, fruits or vegetables ... there's an opportunity there for us to reduce and eliminate the high tariffs we currently face going into the market," he said. "Overall, the agreement is good for American agriculture. I don't think anybody is arguing it's not."

Staff writer Tim Hearden is based in Shasta Lake. E-mail: thearden@capitalpress.com.

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