There has been a lot of news recently about challenges of bringing jobs into South Carolina, which will certainly help our economy.

However, a hidden dilemma will ultimately hurt the U.S. economy and especially rural South Carolina communities if it is not resolved soon. It involves agricultural exports, which are essential to American prosperity.

Agribusiness is South Carolina’s largest economic engine contributing $34 billion annually to the economy through more than 200,000 jobs in the state.

Our nation’s ability to trade openly in the world marketplace is in jeopardy. It is a complicated issue. There are more than 600 bilateral and regional trade agreements in place or under negotiation worldwide. Sadly, the U.S. has a share in fewer than 25 of these trade deals.

Of great importance are three trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama that have been stalled by Congress and the Administration for several years. Further inaction could cost U.S. producers close to $2.5 billion per year in agriculture exports.

Congress now has the opportunity to vote and pass each of these agreements, making the potential gains for increasing agricultural exports to these markets a reality — gains that will benefit the farmers and ranchers of South Carolina. 

So, why is this important for the average person?

Agricultural trade is not only critical to farmers and ranchers, it is important for a strong U.S. economy and for the creation of American jobs. Every $1 billion in agricultural exports supports 9,000 U.S. jobs including those of transportation workers, food processors, packers, dockworkers, and sales and marketing professionals.

By passing all three trade agreements, nearly 22,500 new U.S. jobs could be created, including new jobs in South Carolina.

Face huge tariffs

Currently, U.S. products exported to these countries face exorbitant tariffs just to get into these markets. Yet, while we pay tariffs of up to 160 percent to sell to the Colombia and Panama markets, they receive duty-free access to the U.S. market for their goods. In Korea, tariffs of up to 500 percent are placed on U.S. goods. Passing these trade agreements would immediately eliminate most of these tariffs.

Furthermore, as someone who has participated in and witnessed World Trade Organization negotiations, I know that as each day goes by without passing the agreements there are more opportunities for other countries to negotiate their own deals.

For example, while we urge the Administration and Congress to expedite passage of these trade deals, the European Union is moving forward with its own Korea agreement, hoping it can beat us to the punch.

Australia, Chile, and Canada are also moving in and taking potential U.S. market shares in the three countries. 

Our market share in Colombia has plummeted from 46 percent to 24 percent in the past several years. South Carolina is losing out on increased exports of poultry, beef, and other important agricultural products to Korea.

Panama has already completed an agreement with Canada which includes beef, potato products, and processed foods, while our farmers and ranchers are left out in the cold.

These three agreements in total are expected to increase direct exports from South Carolina alone by $13.8 million per year. That’s why it’s critical we urge Congress to pass the Korea, Colombia, and Panama trade agreements today.

EDITOR’S NOTE — David M. Winkles, Jr. is a farmer and the president of the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, the largest general farm organization in South Carolina with more than 100,000 member families. The organization supports the work of family farmers and rural lifestyles.