Hultgren: Time for Congress to Act on Free Trade Agreements
In the coming months, I hope that Congress will have the opportunity to consider and pass three free trade agreements (FTAs) that will create jobs and opportunities for Illinoisans and all Americans. These agreements – with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama – would give our farmers and manufacturers access to presently-untapped markets worth more than $2.5 billion a year; access to these markets will in turn spur job creation and investment in our small towns and rural communities.
When it comes to agriculture and agricultural exports, Illinois is among America’s leaders. We are second in the nation in exports of feed grains, such as corn; we also rank second in soybean exports. Exports account for more than 25 percent of total agricultural sales in Illinois and these agreements will ensure that we are seeing the largest return possible return on our agricultural products by giving American farmers and manufacturers access to these vibrant and growing markets.
Our farmers and job creators have proven that they can compete in the global market, but they deserve a fair playing field. High tariffs and strict quotas put in place by other nations have hurt our producers. These protectionist policies confronting our goods far outweigh the equivalent duties imposed by the United States on goods imported from these countries. The free trade agreements Congress will consider will give American exporters the real, predictable market access and level playing field they deserve.
A few examples demonstrate the value of these agreements. U.S. goods entering Korea currently face a tariff of at least 6.2 percent; in contrast, Korean goods entering the U.S. face an average tariff of 2.8 percent. Under the Korea FTA, however, tariffs on most American corn and soybean exports would be eliminated immediately, while pork tariffs would be duty free by 2016. Over just five years, the Korea FTA would eliminate the tariffs levied on 95 percent of U.S. goods today.
In Colombia, our corn and soybean products face a system of variable levies (price band system) which result in tariffs as high as the World Trade Organization (WTO) ceiling high as 194 percent for corn, 150 percent for soybean products, and 108 percent for pork. The Colombia FTA will immediately eliminate the tariffs on these products, vastly expanding our farmers’ market access and a real ability to compete for market share. This FTA will transform our trade relationship with Colombia to a two way street, and strengthen our relationship with this critical regional ally.
The third FTA awaiting passage will ensure the elimination of tariffs on a variety of corn, pork and soybean products entering Panama. The country’s location astride major international shipping lanes underlines the importance of our relationship, especially when considering the massive project currently underway to expand the Panama Canal.
Farmers are a critical part of our economy both in the 14th Congressional District and across America, but they not the only ones who will benefit from free trade agreements. The agreements will also benefit Illinois’ strong manufacturing, chemical and technology sectors, expanding their access to foreign markets and spurring job-creation and investment across the state. For these reasons I look forward to supporting the long-overdue implementation of these vital free trade agreements.