Congress Daily Three Congressional Ag Leaders Want More Action From Obama

Feb 02, 2010
In The News

Three lawmakers key to farm issues Monday urged the Obama administration to push for congressional approval of pending trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea to help boost agricultural exports.

The comments from three of the four leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees followed a statement by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack that President Obama’s State of the Union commitment to doubling exports in five years did not mean the administration has pledged to double exports from farms in five years.

In his address last week, Obama said, "We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support 2 million jobs in America. To help meet this goal, we’re launching a National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls consistent with national security."

Obama also said his administration would enforce trade agreements, "continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets" and "strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia."

During a briefing Monday on USDA’s FY11 budget proposal, Vilsack said the president "was not suggesting by referring to agriculture that there was going to be a doubling of agriculture exports."

Referring to pending free trade agreements, Vilsack said, "We hope they go ahead."

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln, who wrote Obama Friday urging passage of the agreements, reacted Monday to Vilsack’s statement. "Opening more markets for agricultural producers will help Arkansas farmers and rural communities who have felt the devastating effects of the current economic climate," she said. "Approving the Colombia, South Korea and Panama trade agreements will increase agriculture exports, create new jobs and improve our nation’s economy."

Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss said, "Farmers and ranchers should not be left out of the president’s agenda. U.S. agriculture is one of the sectors that can immediately benefit from the pending free trade agreements and increased attention to enforcement. Agriculture already exports more than it imports and we can do more by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers around the world."

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson was traveling Monday and could not be reached, but Agriculture ranking member Frank Lucas called for swift action on the pending trade agreements.

"The administration has been virtually absent on the issue despite the fact that the potential for these markets is critically important in this current economic climate," Lucas said. "We can’t live on hope. If these free trade agreements are to pass, the administration has to push for them on the Hill, and it hasn’t done that."

Vilsack said the administration has not determined sector targets for increasing exports, but said that he, Trade Representative Kirk and Commerce Secretary Locke will soon announce details of the export initiative.

Vilsack noted that the president’s budget includes some shifts in USDA export programs and a plan to send more technical teams overseas to work with foreign officials on export certificates and other agreements that could remove barriers to U.S. products.

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