Guest opinion submitted by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo
We in Idaho understand the importance of agriculture to the state, but many of us don't understand the importance of trade to agriculture. Most of Idaho's agricultural products are exported to other states and approximately 20 percent are exported to other countries. According to statistics from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, if Idahoans had to consume all of Idaho's agricultural produce, each day we would all have to consume 52 potatoes, 240 slices of bread, 38 glasses of milk or 1.9 pounds of cheese, 2 quarter-pound hamburgers, 2 onions, and more.
Clearly Idaho's agricultural industry is extremely prolific. Idaho farmers and ranchers provide many jobs and abundant food for Idaho's families. There is little doubt that the industry's growth is beneficial to the state. As Idaho agriculture grows and the need increases around the world for quality agricultural produce, the importance of expanded foreign market opportunities becomes clearer. Congress is currently working on several trade-related issues to help expand these opportunities.
Last week, I joined Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) and a large bipartisan group of co-sponsors in the Senate to introduce the Promoting American Agricultural and Medical Exports to Cuba Act. This legislation would broaden market opportunities for Idaho potatoes, wheat, peas, beans, barley, lentils, dairy, beef, pork, wood, and other products. It would also remove travel bans to Cuba and ease restrictions complicating the sale of U.S. medicines and medical devices to Cuba.
Also, last week, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement, which would provide duty-free entry for 88 percent of U.S. exports to Panama. U.S. exports can face high tariffs in foreign markets, while our tariffs on imports are much lower or do not exist. Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) generally level these tariffs, thereby easing entry of U.S. goods into foreign markets, and often provide channels for addressing the environment, human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and other issues in partner nations. There are two other pending FTAs (with Colombia and South Korea) that could also provide more market access to Idaho's agricultural producers.
Most Colombian products enter the U.S. duty-free, but the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement would provide reciprocal access to Colombia's market for U.S. products. The benefits to Idaho agriculture would include immediate duty-free access for peas, lentils, dry beans, apples, cherries, and potatoes; elimination of tariffs on wheat and barley; removal of Colombia's 80 percent duty on prime and choice cut beef imports; and elimination of all dairy product duties. Similarly, the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement would provide duty-free access for nearly two-thirds of current U.S. agricultural exports to South Korea.
Additionally, in the cause of free and fair trade, last month Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and I led a bipartisan group of Senators in sending a letter to the President urging him to work toward the timely removal of the tariffs Mexico recently imposed on more than 80 U.S. products. Along with other devastating losses if these tariffs continue, U.S. potato producers will lose an estimated $17.7 million in sales for the remainder of 2009 and $40 million in 2010.
Trade among nations is a powerful form of diplomacy. Because of states like Idaho, America feeds much of the world. Subsequently, America has a good relationship with much of the world. Increased international trade is important to the future of Idaho agriculture and, thus, to Idaho's future. Each of the steps we have taken recently toward free and fair trade is another to help get us there. For more details on these trade-related issues, go to http://crapo.senate.gov.
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