On Monday, the White House submitted a trio of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) to Congress for approval. In the works for years, the agreements – with Colombia, Panama and South Korea – have faced a bumpy ride on the way to ratification.  

For more, see here and Free Trade Agreements move forward.

Following the submission, a long list of farm advocates and commodity organizations lined up to support passage of the FTAs. Approval of the Colombia FTA “will enhance U.S. competitiveness and benefit farmers and manufacturers by removing the tariffs which are currently applied to U.S. products,” said a statement by the National Cotton Council.

For more commodity group reactions, see here.

The FTAs “will support tens of thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars in economic activity to our economy,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack during a Tuesday morning press conference.

“When they’re approved, these agreements will clear the way for new American exports around the world. (This will) create jobs and provide new income opportunities for (U.S.) agricultural producers, the small businesses that will assist in the export of those agricultural products, and rural communities from whence they come.

“American agriculture will benefit to the extent of $2.3 billion in additional exports. That will support nearly 20,000 jobs” in the United States.

One major sticking point for the deals was the insistence of the Obama administration to tie them to an extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. House Republicans were opposed to extending the TAA, which would assist U.S. workers who lose their jobs in the wake of the trade deals.

Vilsack said the White House had reached “an agreement on the terms of meaningfully strengthening and renewing the (TAA program). The agreement reached preserves the key goals of the 2009 program. That means it will provide covered service for workers whose jobs have shifted to China, India or other countries.

“That’s important, but it was also reformed and improved and we believe the changes will save approximately $733 million when compared to a straight extension of the full program.”

What assurances does Vilsack have that the House will pass it?

We have the commitment of (Ohio Rep. John Boehner) the Speaker of the House. The speaker (has) indicated a strong desire to move the trade agreements and TAA. I take him at his word and we all should.” 

Vilsack expects Congress will now “work swiftly to pass these FTAs. Korea, Colombia Panama have approved, or negotiated, trade agreements with a host of other nations. So, we need these agreements to be completed quickly to level the playing and secure markets for American products.”