In addition to Administration officials, the House Agriculture Committee heard testimony from several agricultural groups during its Thursday discussion of pending free trade agreements, with testimony on both sides of the issue.
The National Farmers Union has historically opposed free trade agreements on the basis the agreements were more likely to increase imports rather than open new markets to U.S. goods, as claimed by proponents. NFU President Roger Johnson explained that NFU supports trade: fair, mutually beneficial trade that seeks to increase human welfare and respects sovereign nations' need for food and national security. Johnson said the pending agreements lack key provisions in achieving this goal.
On the other side of the issue, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said inaction has resulted in loss of market share and forfeiture of economic growth.
"The U.S. government’s inability to move these agreements benefits our foreign competitors while harming U.S. producers and American workers," Stallman said. "These trade agreements are not only important to the bottom line of America’s farmers and ranchers but the economic health of our rural communities and the overall U.S. economy."
Stallman testified that combined, the Korea, Colombia and Panama agreements would add nearly an additional $2.5 billion to the U.S. economy through agricultural trade. According to Stallman, the debate is no longer simply about generating potential export gains but about how to prevent the loss of existing export markets.
Commodity groups also made their voices heard during the hearing. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Bill Donald said that now is the time to begin the implementation process in order to secure critical market share.
"Time is of the essence because as a cattle producer, I’m competing with other cattlemen in the European Union, Australia, Canada, Argentina and Brazil and we’re all courting the same consumer base," Donald said. "The beef industry is not asking for a handout from Washington. We just want the opportunity to compete for consumers in Korea, Colombia and Panama."
National Corn Growers Association CEO Rick Tolman told the hearing that increased production and a consistent product make the United States a reliable supplier of corn in the world market. He also testified that developing new markets for the country's agricultural products will help that sector lead the nation in economic growth and international competitiveness.
"We need to approve these FTAs as soon as possible because other pork exporting competitors, like the European Union and Canada, are moving forward with their own FTAs," said Sam Carney, a pork producer from Adair, Iowa, and immediate past president of the National Pork Producers Council. "Losing these markets would mean lost value to the hogs I sell, which would translate into less profits and ultimately lost jobs."