LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Farm Bureau’s officers
returned in early July from a trade mission to Korea fully convinced of
the need for Congress to pass pending free trade agreements with
Korea, Panama and Columbia.
Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach of Manila
(Mississippi County), Vice President Rich Hillman of Carlisle (Lonoke
County) and Secretary/Treasurer Tom Jones of Pottsville (Pope County)
went to Korea and China to meet with government officials, food
importers and regulatory authorities. The intent was to increase
awareness of Arkansas agricultural products, and establish a
trust-based relationship with the decision makers in those countries.
“All trade is based on trust and relationships,” said
Veach, a cotton, rice and soybean farmer. “Every place we went, we
identified ourselves first as farmers. That was very well received.
They want to talk to the people who raise the livestock and grow the
crops, so they know that the agricultural products they are buying come
from someone they trust.
“That was probably the No. 1 priority of this trip, and I believe we were successful in that mission.”
The Korea Free Trade Agreement is one of three awaiting
passage by the U.S. Congress, along with trade pacts with Panama and
Columbia. The pending agreements are now moving forward in the Senate
Finance Committee, as well as the House Ways and Means Committee.
The committees have each approved the agreements through
the mock markup process. The Obama administration must now formally
submit the implementing legislation to Capitol Hill for a Congressional
vote. That action is expected to happen the week of July 11, according
to Veach, with the hopeful passage of the agreements before the August
Arkansas Farm Bureau’s trade advisory committee traveled to
Washington, D.C. last month, and received commitments from each member
of the Arkansas Congressional delegation of their support for passage
of the FTAs.
“The United States has sat on the three pending trade
agreements for almost four years, mostly for political reasons,” Veach
said. “While we have done that, free trade agreements between other
countries have been signed, and the U.S. has lost some of its
competitive advantage because of that.
“We had a great meeting with Ted Taeho Lee, Korea’s
director general for FTA policy. He was very clear to us. The European
Union already has an enacted FTA with Korea that went into effect July
1, and Australia is knocking on Korea’s door, ready to strike an
agreement with Korea as well. If Australia were to get an FTA in
advance of the U.S., our country would be behind on tariff reductions
for 15 years.
“The window for the United States to get an FTA agreement
with Korea grows smaller each day. To miss that opportunity would be
especially impactful to American agriculture.”
The Korea FTA will provide an opportunity for the U.S. to
expand exports of grains, oilseeds, fiber, fruits and vegetables and
livestock products. Arkansas poultry exports to Korea are expected to
increase annually by $5.3 million. Increased exports of processed food
and fish to Korea will have an $8 million impact in Arkansas, and beef
exports from our state are expected to increase by $6.2 million.
“By eliminating tariffs and other barriers on many of
Arkansas’ agricultural products going into these countries, the
agreements will increase trade for a range of agricultural products,
including beef, poultry, rice, soybeans and processed food products,”
Veach said. “These export sales make an important contribution to
Arkansas’ farm economy, which represents the largest industry sector in
In total, the three FTAs are expected to increase direct
exports from Arkansas by $56 million annually. It is estimated the
increased marketing opportunities for Arkansas’ farmers and ranchers
will add nearly 500 jobs to the Arkansas economy, if the three free
trade agreements are passed.
Nationally, the three FTAs represent nearly $3 billion in
new agricultural exports for the United States, with more than half of
that total attributable to expanded trade with Korea.
Veach said trade with other nations is especially critical
to Arkansas, with nearly one-fourth of the $16 billion annually
generated by agricultural sales resulting from foreign trade “For
Arkansas farmers, trade matters,” Veach said.