President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea on Friday at the White House.
The agreements were passed on a bipartisan basis in both chambers of Congress last week after years of delay for political, logistical and policy reasons. Along with the FTAs, Obama will also sign provisions renewing the generalized system of preferences (GSP) and trade adjustment assistance (TAA), which were key to gaining his support for finalizing the free trade pacts.
Obama is set to sign the agreements Friday morning in the Oval Office, then speak at a Rose Garden Ceremony marking their completion. NAWG President Wayne Hurst, a wheat farmer from Burley, Idaho, and U.S. Wheat Associates Chairman Randy Suess, a wheat farmer from Colfax, Wash., are scheduled to attend the Rose Garden ceremony to represent wheat growers, who have strongly supported the agreements since they were penned in 2006 and 2007.
Once signed by the President, the agreements must go through an implementation process to activate them, known as “entering into force”.
This process can take a number of months because it requires all parties to certify that they consider one another to be abiding by the agreements’ terms and legal conditions.
NAWG and U.S. Wheat are urging this process to begin immediately and come to a conclusion as quickly as possible so the U.S. wheat industry can begin benefiting from the FTA’s preferences.
The delay in congressional consideration of the agreements has significantly hurt wheat exports, especially to Colombia.
As recently as 2007/2008, 70 percent of Colombia’s total annual wheat imports came from U.S. farmers. U.S. sales have fallen since then to a low of 46 percent of total imports. At the same time, Canada negotiated and ratified an FTA with Colombia that entered into force in August, allowing Canadian wheat to enter Colombia duty free. Since June, Canadian wheat exports to Colombia have doubled versus last year while U.S. wheat exports have fallen 20 percent.
The FTAs with Panama and South Korea also eliminate duties on U.S. wheat. While current tariffs do not significantly affect wheat exports to those countries, research commissioned by U.S. Wheat Associates in 2010 showed that lowering barriers to trade increases the value and volume of all U.S. agricultural exports, an industry that already supports more than 800,000 U.S. jobs.
The U.S. is the world’s largest wheat exporter, typically sending about half of each year’s crop overseas. For this reason, the wheat industry also plans to continue pursuing an aggressive trade agenda. At least 120 other bilateral trade agreements that do not include the United States are under negotiation around the world. Many multi-lateral agreements are also under negotiation.
More on the industry’s trade work is at www.wheatworld.org/trade.