October 1, 2011 in Opinion

Guest opinion: Free trade will bring jobs

Steve Appel
 

At a time when Republicans and Democrats in the other Washington can’t seem to agree on anything, there’s a job-creation proposal that is strongly supported by both sides of the aisle: the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.

Even more important for Washington’s farm communities, these agreements would not only create jobs across the state, but would also increase the competitiveness of Washington agricultural products overseas. So it is vital that our state’s residents come together and advocate for swift passage of these agreements to boost to our economy.

Washington’s agricultural industry is not only one of our state’s most significant economic drivers – contributing 12 percent of the state’s economy and employing 160,000 people – but agriculture is also one of our largest international trade industries. In 2009, agricultural exports totaled $2.9 billion, making it our state’s third largest export after airplanes and software. Yet, in some of the most important emerging markets around the world – from Asia to South America – our farm products are at a competitive disadvantage due to high tariffs charged on U.S. imports.

For example, South Korea currently charges a 24 percent tariff on sweet cherries, an 18 percent tariff on potatoes, and a 15 percent tariff on U.S. wines. U.S. pear and apple exports to Colombia currently face a 15 percent tariff. More importantly, our products are becoming increasingly expensive relative to other countries’ agricultural goods. As of July 1, the European Union-Korea Free Trade Agreement was enacted. The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement went into effect on Aug. 15. The costs of delay in passing our own free trade agreements with these countries are significant, with every day bringing increased losses due to trade diversion.

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that the passage of these agreements would increase direct exports from Washington state by $52.8 million per year, with significant job creation for Washington residents. Tariffs on many Washington agricultural products would be eliminated immediately, and a majority of tariffs will go to zero within three to five years. The benefits would be widespread, ranging from fruits, vegetables, nuts and wheat to beef, dairy, seafood and wine.

Of course, these free trade agreements would grow our state’s economy more broadly than just agriculture, lowering or eliminating tariffs on everything from industrial products to consumer goods in some of the most important markets for our state. In 2010, South Korea was Washington’s fourth largest export market, with sales of nearly $1.9 billion, while trade with Colombia and Panama totaled close to $400 million in exports last year — an increase of 180 percent over 2009. So not only are these agreements something that Democrats and Republicans in Congress both endorse, but they are also mutually beneficial to industries across Western and Eastern Washington.

The Washington Council on International Trade and the Washington Farm Bureau are working closely with our members to ensure that Washington’s congressional delegation understands how essential the immediate passage of these free trade agreements is to our state. But we need more voices to add to the urgency, explaining why these agreements are so critical, and why they must be approved as soon as possible.

An estimated one in three jobs in our state is dependent on international trade. Supporting passage of these free trade agreements will help families across Washington and grow our agricultural economy at the same time. We encourage you to join us in contacting your member of Congress and the Obama administration, urging them to come to resolution on these proposals and help create the jobs that Washington’s economy desperately needs.

Steve Appel is the president of the Washington Farm Bureau, a voluntary, nonpartisan, grass-roots advocacy organization representing the social and economic interests of its 40,000-member farm and ranch families at the local, state and national levels. Eric Schinfeld is the president of the Washington Council on International Trade (WCIT), which is dedicated to growingthe state’s economy through public policies favorable to expanded opportunities in the global marketplace.


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