On Monday, the Colombia-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) entered into force. It is an agreement first signed on Nov. 21, 2008, nearly two years to the day after a U.S.-Colombia FTA was signed. Now most Canadian industries enjoy duty-free access to the growing Colombian market. In contrast, because our government has allowed our FTA to languish, Colombian importers must still pay tariffs on most U.S. goods. For wheat, that tariff overcomes the natural advantage U.S. exporters otherwise have in providing quality wheat on a timely basis to our valued Colombian customers.
The stakes are particularly high for U.S. farmers as roughly 50 percent of U.S. wheat and 25 percent of all U.S. agricultural production is exported. In 2010/11, the United States exported more than 35 million metric tons (MT) of wheat — roughly 60 percent of last year’s production — to about 70 countries. The United States is the largest supplier of wheat to the world and these exports provide worldwide customers with a competitive wheat source while returning an economic boost to the U.S. economy.
The U.S. wheat industry has worked hard to build a reputation as a reliable supplier. While American farms are largely family-run operations, they are businesses that understand the importance of trade to their customers. The U.S. wheat industry has a long history of promoting fair and open trade and looks forward to implementing pending and future trade agreements such as the nine-country TransPacific Partnership agreement to maintain its competitiveness in world markets. We can only hope that our customers in Colombia, as well as in South Korea and Panama*, understand this situation for what it is: a domestic political struggle that accomplishes only confusion, frustration and diminished trust.
U.S. wheat farmers will not give up on trade and once more call for the immediate ratification and implementation of the U.S.-Colombia FTA so U.S. producers and our Colombian customers can benefit from bilateral trade conducted on a level playing field.
Last week President Obama decried that the FTAs with South Korea, Panama and Colombia had not been passed by Congress. Well, where are they?
On his three-state tour in the Midwest this week, Mr. Obama repeatedly told audiences that the Korea, Colombia and Panama free-trade deals would all be law by now if not for an obstructionist Congress. Passing the deals is something Congress “could do right now,” he said.
Except that’s not true. Congress can’t pass the agreements “right now” because it doesn’t have them. They are still sitting on the President’s desk. Seriously.
If you are surprised to learn this, you are not alone. White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest only learned the news on Friday during a press conference. Asked why the FTAs haven’t been sent, he responded, “We have not sent them over?”
That was followed by what might be called an awkward moment. “I will say this—I mean, there has been an active dialogue that’s been underway between the United States trade representative, other members of the Administration, with the appropriate Congressional leaders in the committees of jurisdiction. We are in a place where we have seen Republicans advocating for passing these free trade agreements for quite some time,” Mr. Earnest explained. He also pointed out that “these three trade agreements combined would create or support about 70,000 jobs here in the U.S.”
A reporter persisted and asked, “Well, when are you going to send them over?” “But I can tell you that there’s no reason—I mean, there’s agreement here about the benefits of these trade agreements getting through the Congress, both here at the White House and Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Mr. Earnest referred reporters to “Congress or the USTR on the legislative mechanics of this,” adding that “there is bipartisan agreement on this and it’s something that we should move on really quick.”
I have been writing about the Colombia FTA for nearly five years and thought I had heard it all, but this one takes the cake.
We’re in the best hands.