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Waiting is the hardest part

Friday, November 19, 2010

As the old saying reads "waiting is the hardest part." Waiting also can be costly, especially when it comes to trade agreements which could boost our economy just when it is struggling to get back on its feet.

Unfortunately, since 2007 our nation's agriculture producers have been waiting for action on a number of trade agreements which could strengthen our economy. These trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama -- each of which hold tremendous potential for rural communities in Nebraska -- have gathered dust due to opposition from labor unions and a lack of urgency from Congress.

This waiting has not served our country well. In Colombia, U.S. exports face tariffs -- or taxes -- of between 5 percent and 80 percent. In Panama, the tariffs average around 11 percent. In South Korea, the tariffs range between 3 percent and 38 percent.

Nearly all of Colombia's exports enter the U.S. duty-free, while American products face up to a 35 percent tariff for non-agricultural goods and a much higher tax for agricultural goods. The proposed trade agreement would eliminate tariffs on more than 80 percent of America's exports of industrial and commercial goods and could create up to eight million U.S. jobs.

The trade agreement with South Korea slashes tariffs across the board, opening the Korean economy to a wide range of U.S. products and services. With the enactment of the pending trade agreement with Panama, 85 percent of U.S. industrial exports will receive duty-free treatment immediately. Tariffs on another 6.5 percent of exports will be eliminated over five years, and duties on the remaining 8 percent of U.S. exports will be eliminated over ten years.

In June, President Obama announced plans to finalize the South Korea trade agreement shortly after the November elections. Despite his recent visit, no action was taken, and timelines for the trade agreements with Panama and Colombia are still non-existent.

Each of these agreements provides significant new market access for America's manufacturers, farmers, and ranchers. U.S. meat and poultry exports totaled $11.7 billion last year. Imagine how much that figure could be if our products didn't face steep tariffs.

By delaying these agreements, our country is not only prevented from tapping into growing markets, but also ceding market share to our international competitors which already have in place -- or are negotiating -- their own trade agreements.

Australia, Canada, and even China are negotiating free trade pacts of their own. Also, the European Union and South Korea recently completed a free trade agreement, meaning European cars and other products will soon face lower duties as they enter South Korea. This action is a direct threat to U.S. exports.

Beyond economic benefits, trade agreements promote cooperative relationships between nations and help ensure America's competitiveness in the world's increasingly growing marketplace. These agreements promote faster growth, poverty reduction, democratization, and higher labor and environmental standards.

The trade agreement negotiated with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama during the Bush Administration could prove to be valuable tools both diplomatically and economically. By strengthening our relationships with these countries, the United States would have the chance to shore up our allies whose neighbors are not as friendly to American interests.

The wait for these trade agreements -- a delay which has cost our country millions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and stymied our diplomatic efforts -- has proven to be a frustrating hurdle in the road to our economy's recovery. I look forward to the day the wait is over.


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U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith
Washington Report