Wheat groups push for increased trade opportunities

by World Grain Staff
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) said on Nov. 10 that it is closely monitoring the progress of U.S. President Barack Obama in resolving differences in the U.S./South Korea Free Trade Agreement.

Shannon Schlecht, director of policy for the USW, said finalizing the South Korea agreement, will be a critical success story for the Obama Administration.

Obama traveled to Seoul, South Korea Nov. 10-12 to participate in the G-20 Summit, a meeting of leaders from the world's top 20 economies. While there, Obama hoped to meet with that South Korean President Lee Myng-bak, to resolve differences in the agreement primarily surrounding automobiles and beef.

"The signal it would send to the rest of the world, that the U.S. is serious about trade, is critical for other issues to move forward," Schlecht said.

The U.S. and South Korea signed a free trade agreement in June, 2007, but implementation has been stalled in part due to South Korea's unwillingness to import U.S. beef cattle older than 30 months of age, plus a stalemate over the number of U.S. automobiles sold to South Korean consumers.

Boosting trade with other nations was intended to be a focal point of the Obama Administration in 2010. While several pending U.S. agreements have stalled, other nations have worked on agreements of their own. With South Korea, for example, in October the E.U. signed a free trade agreement, which should be implemented in July 2011. Australia finished a round of talks in May; meanwhile, Canada also is negotiating its own deal with South Korea.

The U.S. does have pending trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. Close proximity to the U.S. and increasing demand for high-quality hard red winter wheat could bring about big benefits to U.S. wheat producers if agreements with Colombia and Panama could be finalized.

"Due to preferences acts we already have in place with Columbia and Panama, 95% of the goods from those countries are already entering the U.S. duty free. So these free trade agreements really provide a benefit for U.S. exports and will help our manufacturing and agriculture industries export goods at a more competitive price to these countries," Schlecht said.
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