US Colombia trade pact important for state’s farmers

Future prosperity in Kansas business and agriculture remains tied directly to worldwide expansion of trade. The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, now before Con?gress, provides tremendous opportunities for Kansas and other U.S. exporters.

This trade agreement will be positive for agriculture and other U.S. businesses. Growth in U.S. agricultural exports could exceed $900 million per year following its enactment.

Expanded growth for agriculture also means expanded job growth for American workers. It takes American workers to move, store, process and transport U.S. farm products from our shores to overseas customers.

Earlier this year, Congress provided duty-free access to Colombian agricultural products shipped into the United States. Yet, when given an opportunity to pass an agreement that would provide the same benefits to American products and U.S. farmers, ranchers, supporting industries and workers, Congress drags its collective feet.

Today, more than 90 percent of Colombian products that enter our country are duty free. They have been for more than 16 years?and with strong Congres?sional support. Contrasting that with the United States, nearly $1 billion in tariffs have been imposed on our exports to Colombia. That practice must end.

The U.S.-Colombia trade agreement could especially benefit small and medium sized businesses. More than 9,000 U.S. companies export to Colombia of which 7,500 are small and medium sized.

Kansas has many of these small businesses and thousands of individual farmers and ranchers who can provide wheat, soybeans and high-quality beef and pork. The U.S.-Colombian trade agreement would move our relationship from one of a one-way street to a full partnership with reciprocal commitments.

This South American country ranks as the second-largest market for U.S. agriculture in the Western Hemisphere. Such an improved relationship with Colombia could lead to even more trade and help bolster our own strained economy.

In 2006, our state?s global export shipments totaled $8.6 billion. That same year the Sunflower State exported $26 million to Colombia. Kansas crops led the way with 32.8 percent of the total exports, followed closely by transportation equipment with 25.8 percent.

Export-supported jobs linked to manufacturing account for an estimated 6.8 percent of Kansas? private sector employment, according to the Department of Commerce?s International Trade Administration.

Nearly one-sixth (16.3 percent) of all manufacturing workers in Kansas depend on exports for their jobs.

More than 2,000 companies exported Kansas goods in 2005, the Department of Commerce reports. Of those, 1,645 or 81 percent were small and medium-sized enterprises. This trade agreement with Colombia would help such small businesses which may not have the resources to navigate customs and regulatory red tape.

With more than 95 percent of the world?s population living outside the United States, it?s vital to this country and state?s economic interests to continue expansion of international trade and bilateral trade.

This U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement has turned into a long, up-hill climb. There are plenty of differences. Farmers and ranchers are all too familiar with their inability to ship their beef, poultry and grains to the European Union.

Much of the success of trade agreements hinges on the good faith implementation of their provisions by all who participate.

This includes the administration, members of the U.S. Congress, farmers, ranchers and U.S. negotiators who have designed an agreement that could level the playing field and enhance trade.

The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement has plenty of opportunity. Involvement by all vested parties will be critical.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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