The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association(NCBA), along with 60 other food and agricultural groups and companies, representing nearly all sectors of the agricultural economy, have sent a letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio); House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in support of the recent agreement between the United States and South Korea on issues that have delayed approval of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA).
Kent Bacus, NCBA manager of legislative affairs, said the groups urged Congress to ratify the overdue trade agreement at the “earliest possible opportunity.”
“Congress has an opportunity to ratify one of the most significant trade agreements in history. This trade pact is long overdue. The inaction of Congress to approve this trade agreement has jeopardized America’s competitive advantage in this very important market and consequently has stymied economic growth and job creation,” said Bacus, adding that NCBA submitted an official statement for the House Ways and Means Committee hearing today about the pending trade agreements. “We commend the compromise that has taken place, but to-date, it is still a no deal until Congress makes their mark.”
Bacus said stalling on the KORUS-FTA poses serious consequences for U.S agriculture. He said if the FTA is significantly stalled or not implemented the likelihood of relinquishing U.S. agricultural export sales to other countries is imminent.
According to the letter, there are 13 trade agreements between Korea and U.S. competitors in place or in the works involving approximately 50 nations around the world. For example, South Korea’s FTA with the European Union is set for implementation on July 1, 2011. NCBA President Steve Foglesong also worries about Australia beating the U.S. to the finish line.
“With other countries like Australia moving forward on trade agreements with Korea, it’s more important than ever that Congress take immediate action on the KORUS-FTA. If Australia were to successfully ratify a similar bilateral trade agreement with Korea a year before we do, it would give them a 2.67 percent tariff advantage over U.S. beef for the next 15 years,” said Foglesong. “This would be devastating to the U.S. beef industry, and sadly, the losses would be of our own doing.”
If implemented, the KORUS FTA would reduce Korea’s current tariff from 40 percent to zero over the next 15 years. The U.S. beef industry would see $15 million in new tariff benefits in the first year alone, with about $325 million in tariff reductions annually once fully implemented. In 2003, U.S. beef producers sold $815 million in beef, beef variety meats and processed beef products to Korea. If KORUS enters into force, Korea could eventually be a one billion dollar market for U.S. beef producers.
“We are hopeful President Obama truly makes the immediate implementation of this trade agreement a priority,” said Foglesong.