Tom KarstMark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, says free trade agreements are hung up over legislation that would extend Trade Adjustment Assistance for industries hurt by trade. Northwest tree fruit marketers are losing export opportunities with the protracted delay in the ratification of U.S. trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Mark Powers, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said the agreements are hung up over legislation that would extend Trade Adjustment Assistance for industries hurt by trade.
“Right now the votes in committees tend to be split along party lines,” Powers said July 25. “Hopefully they can find a way to sort that out and get (the agreements) passed before September.”
With the attention of Congress being taken up with the debate on raising the federal debt limit, Powers said chances are waning for ratification of the agreements before September.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk had said in June the Obama administration had hoped Congress would approve the trade pacts before the August recess.
Of the three countries, South Korea imported $191 million of all U.S. citrus and non-citrus fruit in 2010, compared with $21 million for Colombia and $11 million for Panama.
Powers said the Colombia free trade pact has the chance to have the most significance for apple and pear growers, who are looking to compete there on even footing with apples and pears from Chile. Lower tariffs will allow expansion of the marketing window in the country and an increase in U.S. market share, he said.
Panama already features low tariffs of U.S. goods – less than 5% on tree fruit – so the free trade pact with Panama will only offer marginal export opportunities, Powers said.
Powers said the free trade pact with the Republic of Korea will primarily benefit the cherry industry, since the country does not yet allow access to U.S. apples and pears. Under the free trade agreement, the tariffs for U.S. apples and pears eventually do go to zero over 10 to 20 years. Powers said the industry can hope for phytosanitary approval to take advantage of the gradually declining apple and pear tariff rates.