The Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee have completed a mock markup of the pending free trade agreements. The process was the first step in getting the deals through Congress and implemented. However, one version contains Trade Adjustment Assistance and the other does not.
Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says the movement in committee leaves him optimistic about resolving the differences on TAA. He says it was part of the compromise between Congress and the White House.
"The President has been very cognizant of the Republican request that all three be submitted at the same time and he responded to that request by doing so," Vilsack said. "When all three were proposed it was pointed out that there needed to be an extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance, which helps people adversely impacted by trade to redirect their careers and create new opportunities for them. That includes not only workers but also thousands of farmers who may not fully benefit from these free trade agreements. So it is a balanced approach and our belief is that when it is all said and done we're going to see these free trade agreements approved by Congress along with Trade Adjustment Assistance."
Vilsack also says they also feel passage will come before the August recess.
"That is our sincere hope that it is done; the sooner the better," Vilsack said. "Obviously we continue to risk market share when we can't get these agreements through the process. We've already seen our position in Korea over the course of the last couple of years compromised with fairly significant competition from Japan and China. We obviously don't want to see any further erosion to our markets in Colombia and these free trade agreements create opportunities for us to get back in the game."
Vilsack says after passage they'll work to get the pacts implemented as quickly as possible as the dropping of tariffs on U.S. goods to zero in Columbia, South Korea and Panama will result in an additional $2.5 billion in ag exports.