Progress on free trade agreement process slowed

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The fates of three pending Free Trade Agreements (FTA) appeared to swing wildly last week, with an announcement of a deal to move them forward, a mock-mark up scheduled and then cancellation of the meeting because of stark political division, all in fewer than three days.

On Tuesday, word came that a deal had been reached to move the agreements with trade adjustment assistance (TAA), which provides support to U.S. workers who suffer economically because of trade pacts. The Obama Administration and key Democrats have insisted that TAA be attached to the FTAs for them to move forward in the approval process.

Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-Mont.) quickly announced his panel would hold a mock mark-up to consider the measures - between the U.S. and Colombia, Panama and South Korea - on Thursday.

By Wednesday, however, cracks had started to show in the plan, with Republicans expressing concerns about adding TAA provisions to the implementing language for the U.S.-Korea agreement, as well as about the meeting's timing.

By Thursday, hours before the mock mark-up was scheduled, Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had spoken out in opposition and led a letter signed by Committee Republicans to President Barack Obama, calling for the measures and TAA to be considered separately.

At 3 p.m., Baucus announced from the Committee's hearing room that the meeting would be cancelled due to lack of quorum because no Republican would be present, while Republicans held a press conference at another location.

The wheat industry and most mainstream agriculture organizations are strongly supportive of the three pending agreements and deeply concerned about the consequences to U.S. market share if their passage continues to be delayed.

NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates released a statement Wednesday from NAWG President Wayne Hurst and U.S. Wheat Chairman Don Schieber, saying, "We strongly believe these agreements have languished long enough and call once again for their quick consideration and approval."

NAWG also asked leaders of all of its state affiliates to call Members of the Finance Committee and urge support for the agreements despite political differences.

For wheat, the Colombia agreement is particularly vital. A free trade agreement between Colombia and Canada is set to go into effect in mid-August, which would allow Canadian wheat to enter the South American country duty free - a benefit Argentinean wheat already enjoys.

U.S. Wheat Associates has estimated that passing the U.S.-Colombia FTA will help prevent lost sales of $100 million each year in that important and growing market.

The industry now hopes that officials can find a path forward for the important agreements, which would help support market share for wheat growers, who export half their national crop in a typical year.

Much more about the importance of trade to the wheat industry is at www.wheatworld.org/trade.



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