Second in a series

Farmers will benefit from completion of trade agreements, including pending bi-lateral agreements as well as the Doha Round of WTO.

“We have to get free trade done,” says Barry Flinchbaugh, professor of agricultural economics and farm policy at Kansas State University.

Flinchbaugh and Charlie Stenholm, former ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee and currently a consultant for ag and other rural America interests as policy advisor for the law firm Olsson, Frank and Weeda, engaged in a good natured debate recently in Fort Worth during the annual Ag Media Summit.

“I agree with Barry on trade,” Stenholm said. “We are in an international marketplace and we need to adapt to that. But we have to be careful how we do it.”

He said open trade is a better option and a more reachable goal than free trade. “I’m hopeful that congress will approve (bi-lateral) agreements with Panama and Columbia and set the pattern to get WTO done. We need an agreement. It will be in our best interest.”

Flinchbaugh said the Columbia Free Trade Agreement would benefit U.S. industries, including agriculture, without giving anything away. “It would allow our goods to go into Columbia duty free. If it’s not passed wheat sales to Columbia could decline by 50 percent. It’s time to pass it.”

He said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi “is dead wrong on (trade) agreements. But we are closer than we’ve ever been in the DOHA Round. We’re separated only by minutiae. The world’s political leaders know they have to (complete the Doha agreement) to recover from the recession.”

Flinchbaugh said trade agreements should reverse a declining U.S. balance of trade. Agriculture trade “is estimated to be down 17 percent in 2009,” Flinchbaugh said.

They also weighed in on Country Of Origin Labeling, COOL. “It’s pure crap,” Flinchbaugh said. “It has no place in a global economy.”

“I have a difficult time understanding support for mandatory labeling without mandatory animal identification,” Stenholm said.

email: rsmith@farmpress.com