US farmers celebrate approval of free trade deals

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — U.S. farmers on Thursday celebrated the approval of free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, saying the pacts will increase demand for their products, though American consumers shouldn’t see a drastic increase in overall food prices.

Congress approved the agreements Wednesday night, calling for the elimination of tariffs on U.S. products exported to those countries.

Farm exports are expected to increase by $2.3 billion and 20,000 agriculture-related jobs are expected to be created under the agreements, which will gradually be phased in.

“Other parts of the economy will benefit, but none more so than agriculture,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Farm exports are expected to reach $137 billion over the next year.

From corn, pork and cattle to cherries, orange juice and honey, tariffs on U.S. agricultural products shipped to South Korea, Colombia and Panama will be eliminated. Some will be eliminated immediately. Others will be phased out over a period of time as outlined in each of the pacts.

While demand will rise and amounts paid to producers are expected to increase, the effect on the prices consumers pay is expected to be negligible for many products.

“This is such a good deal because they don’t like the same pieces of meat we like,” said Iowa State University economist Dermot Hayes, who published a study earlier this year about the effects the free trade agreements would have on the U.S. pork industry. “Because they like other pieces — they buy the head, shoulder, feet — they may have no effect on our tenderloins.

“By increasing prices of those, potentially, it could reduce prices for consumers because producers don’t need to make as much on cuts that are popular here,” Hayes said.

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