Congress may have finally taken action on the debt ceiling last week, but it comes as no surprise that they left town with other significant unfinished business. Idling workers and numerous construction projects of the Federal Aviation Administration was one such debacle. Yet another one, which hits closer to home for pork producers in particular and agriculture and the United States in general, is the failure to finally approve the three pending free-trade agreements.

While it’s disappointing, it’s not surprising that Congress walked away from the long-overdue Colombia, Panama and South Korea FTAs. Even the most optimistic supporters were losing confidence that Congress would finally approve the agreements before the August recess.

Each of those trade deals, were originally signed more than four years ago, and simply need Congress’ final blessing for implementation, points out National Pork Producers Council officials. The Obama Administration has been nagging lawmakers to move forward, the agriculture industry has been focused on the topic, and there’s even bi-partisan support. One sticking point has to do with U.S. worker issues, including retraining.

South Koreans have been especially patient as that country’s government has signed off in support of moving forward as soon as possible. Meanwhile, South Korea has advanced trade discussions with the European Union, and actually signed an FTA with Canada.

While South Korea has increased U.S. pork exports this year, just last week having extended its zero-tariff policy through September, those steps are driven by a pork supply shortage due to the country’s last bout with foot-and-mouth disease and related herd culling. The reality is that the longer the United States delays and the more other suppliers South Korea lines up, the further U.S. pork will be pushed out of the market.  

Now, the soonest that a decision could be made is September as Congress doesn’t return to Washington until after Labor Day. Of course, with all the other looming issues Congress is facing, the FTA are not likely to move to the top of their list quickly.

As Iowa State University Economist  Dermot Hayes points out, when fully implemented the three FTAs will increase U.S. pork exports by more than $770 million annually, add more than $11 to the price that U.S. producers receive for each hog. They’re also expected to generate more than 10,000 pork industry jobs.

NPPC, which strongly supports the three FTAs, is asking its members to contact their lawmakers while they are home for the congressional break, and urge them to take up and approve the agreements as soon as possible after they return to work in September.

Source: NPPC