Colombia/U.S. FTA’s first anniversary

The US Embassy of Colombia in Washington says the US./Colombian Free Trade Agreement has generated 28-and-a-half Billion in trade for both countries in its first year, benefitting ag trade both ways.

The embassy reports that US ag exports to Colombia increased 68 percent – the main products being soybeans, soybean meal, rice and pork.

Colombian ag exports (excluding coffee) increased by 7 percent. Colombia is the 12th largest ag supplier for the U.S.

This is the one year anniversary of the implementation of the long-sought agreement.

Ag groups welcome U.S.-EU trade talks

A coalition of U.S. food and agricultural organizations led by the National Pork Producers Council is praising the Obama administration for launching negotiations with the European Union (EU) on a transatlantic free trade agreement (FTA)—and for its insistence that the agreement be comprehensive and ambitious.

In a letter signed by 64 organizations sent Monday to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the coalition said any FTA with the EU “must fit the excellent model established with the Trans-Pacific Partnership”, meaning all significant trade barriers should be covered in a single comprehensive agreement.

The coalition expressed concern with a trade working group report that suggested an initial U.S.-EU FTA be designed to “evolve over time,” eliminating most barriers to trade and investment but setting up a mechanism to address other barriers.

Recent statements from EU officials, for example, have raised doubts about the EU’s commitment to dealing with sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) issues as part of the negotiations.

SPS issues must be addressed as part of the negotiations, the coalition wrote, not simply left to some future consultative mechanism.  It also stressed that SPS provisions must be enforceable.

FTA boosts Colombian flower sales to U.S.

Valentine’s Day is the biggest market for the flower industry of Colombia and according to the Colombian embassy sales have grown because of the implementation of the U.S./Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

The South American country exports 500 million flowers to the U.S. each year and Colombian flower exports make up 76 percent of all flowers sold in the U.S., according to the Association of Colombian Flower Exporters.

Flowers they export during the Valentine’s Day season make up about 12 percent of Colombia’s annual sales in that sector.

USGC works with Colombia on FTA details

The U.S. Grains Council says it has a team working with Colombian officials ahead of the implementation of the U.S./Columbia Free Trade Agreement which goes into effect May 15th.

Kurt Shultz, USGC Regional Director for Latin America, says there are still some details that need to be ironed out. While they’re pleased the Colombian government is pressing ahead with the FTA, he says May 15th is “an aggressive deadline.”

Shultz says there needs to be a mechanism for administering the FTA’s tariff rate quotas (TRQ’s) for U.S. corn and grain sorghum. And, he says, Colombia’s biotech labeling requirements for GMOs in raw materials destined for human consumption are not in sync with those of the United States – adding the USGC and Colombian government and industry officials are looking for “a workable solution.”

US/Colombia FTA to go into effect May 15th

The United States and Colombia have picked a date next month to put their Free Trade Agreement into effect. On Tuesday, May 15th, 2012 more than 80 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products – including agricultural equipment – will become duty free. More than half of U.S. exports of agricultural commodities to Colombia will also become duty-free: including soybeans, wheat, barley, “high quality beef”, bacon and “almost all fruit and vegetable products” , according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

The US/Colombia FTA was authorized by Congress last October along with the Korea FTA that went into effect last month and the Panama FTA which is yet to be implemented.

By Tom Steever  – According to a report in Bloomberg News, in a conference call at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters that President Obama took steps to certify Colombia’s labor-protection efforts. Under the labor certification, Colombia is to establish a new labor ministry, give workers the right to organize, prosecute past cases of violence against unions and provide protections for them.

U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that the trade deal will add as much as $1.1 billion to U.S. exports when it takes full effect.

U.S. commodity groups pushed hard for the free trade agreement, but Caterpillar and General Electric are among its biggest supporters.

The AFL-CIO labor federation remains opposed to the trade pact with Colombia.

Korea FTA will bring duty reductions on beef, pork

March 15th was recently announced as the implementation date for the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

U.S. Meat Export Federation economist Erin Borror says the agreement will bring significant duty reductions on U.S. beef and pork.

Borror says South Korea’s 40 percent duty on U.S. beef will be phased out over 15 years, declining by 2.7 percent each year until 2026.

“So as you can imagine we’ll see quite the benefit, especially when duties drop closer to 15 percent and below by around 2020,” Borror says.

And Borror notes that the U.S. is the only major beef supplier to have reached such an agreement with Korea, which means the U.S. beef industry’s competitive advantage in that market will increase over time.

Borror says Korea’s pork duties will be reduced on a much faster schedule. 

“Duties on the most commonly traded items, which are frozen pork muscle cuts, are currently 25 percent—and upon implementation will be reduced to 16 percent—and completely eliminated by 2016,” she says.

Borror says that schedule will provide the U.S. with an advantage over most pork export competitors.

Illinois corn farmers to visit Colombia

A delegation of Illinois corn farmers, representing the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board will visit Colombia this month to learn more about the market opportunities in that country following passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

While in Colombia, the Illinois delegation will meet with potential buyers, as well as spend time with both the Colombian Swine and Poultry Association, they’ll visit a dairy cooperative, a swine production unit and SOLA, one of the top three feed millers in Colombia.

The group returns to Illinois on February 19.

South Korea ratifies FTA with U.S.

South Korea’s Parliament has ratified the free trade agreement (FTA) with the U.S.

With final ratification complete in both countries, the FTA is expected to go into effect on January 1st, 2012.

The approval came despite strong opposition from most South Korean farm groups.  The South Korean government has promised to help its farmers deal with increased competition from imports of American farm products.

Korea/US FTA stalls in Korean Assembly

Disagreement among Korean lawmakers about the free trade agreement with the U.S. has stalled movement of the deal in the South Korean National Assembly.

While the US approved the FTA in mid-October with President Obama signing it October 21st – the Korean Assembly failed to approve the treaty last Friday (October 28th, 2011).  According to Bloomberg News, South Korea President Lee Myung Bak is urging the public to back the FTA and show their support to the nation’s lawmakers.

Bloomberg says hundreds of South Korean farmers and others protested the FTA on Friday, storming the National Assembly, saying their livelihoods are threatened by the agreement.

U.S. beef and pork producers are especially concerned because they estimate the Korea FTA will greatly boost U.S. exports and increase the per head price of their livestock.

FTAs and Farm Bill priorities

On Friday, October 21, Ag Secretary Vilsack was at the White House for the signing of the three Free Trade Agreements, which he describes as being a good day for American Agriculture. On Saturday, Secretary Vilsack was in Indianapolis speaking at the National FFA Convention. I sat down with the Secretary, we talked about the importance of the FTAs and the role USDA would be play in the writing of the 2012 Farm Bill.

Audio: Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack (3:00 MP3)