Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke before the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture this week:

"Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, U.S. agricultural exports, and the capacity of exports to create economic opportunities in our rural communities.

"Over the past two years, as the nation has rebounded from the worst recession in decades, American agriculture has helped lead our recovery by shattering trade records and creating jobs. In fiscal year 2011, U.S. agricultural exports are forecast to reach a record high of $135.5 billion — up nearly 27 billion from the prior year — with a record trade surplus of $47.5 billion. They will help support more than 1.1 million jobs nationwide. Just yesterday, we learned that U.S. farm exports reached an all-time high of $75 billion in first half of fiscal year 2011. That is up 27 percent from the same period last year, and keeps us on track to hit the forecast.

"And our pending trade agreements will help continue that successful story.

"These three trade agreements will create jobs. Through agricultural exports alone, they will yield over $2.3 billion in sales and help support more than 19,000 American jobs in agriculture and related industries.

"The Korea agreement is a trade opportunity we cannot afford to pass up — worth an expected $1.9 billion annually to ag producers. Sixty percent of the items we currently trade to Korea will be duty free immediately, including corn, soybeans for crush, cotton, cherries, and orange and grape juice. Other commodities — such as meat, poultry and dairy — will see tariffs and duties reduced over a period of time, creating tremendous opportunity for us to grow our export opportunities.

"The Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement also contains good news for U.S. agriculture. Currently, no U.S. agricultural exports enjoy duty-free access to Colombia, with most applied tariffs ranging from 5 to 20 percent. But on day one of implementation, U.S. exporters will receive duty-free treatment on products accounting for almost 70 percent of current trade. When implementation is complete, we expect it to increase our agricultural exports by 44 percent — an additional $370 million per year.

"In Panama, U.S. agricultural exports have been on the rise, growing to over $450 million in 2010. Our agreement with them will continue this progress — with an additional $46 million in annual sales upon full implementation. Tariffs on 68 percent of Panama's agricultural tariff lines, accounting for more than half of current U.S. trade by value, would be eliminated by the agreement.