Opening markets is no easy task, as trade representatives often find. Three major free trade agreements - with South Korea, Colombia and Panama - have been making progress, but there's more work ahead. Floyd Gaibler, U.S. Grains Council director of trade policy outlined the key issues in a blog on the organization's website this week. His insight paints a picture of the challenges that face trade negotiators and policymakers.
South Korea is a kind of bright spot since that agreement went into force on March 15, but Gaibler notes that "Timing was important as opposition parties continue to raise threats to oppose the agreement and achieve a majority within their parliament when elections are held [this month]," he says. Gaibler adds that the United States plans to request a renewal of discussions on U.S. beef trade, which was tabled by mutual agreement until the FTA went into effect.
Beef producers want to see the market opened more for their products. The Korean appetite for beef was a bright spot in the trade picture before the end of 2003. Recovery in that market has been a challenge, and beef producers are seeking more access.
In Colombia, progress continues on a range of implementation issues, Gaibler says. "The Colombian government sent to its congress a bill that would implement several obligations in the FTA, particularly related to copyrights, cross-border trade in service and intellectual property rights," he explains.
Once that bill is approved, it has to go to Colombia's constitutional court for a ruling on its constitutionality and the country must complete the bilateral labor action plan as well. Timing remains uncertain, but Gaibler says many believe that an implementation date could be announced as soon as this weekend during the Summit of the Americas conference in that country.
"The most aggressive timetable would be June with the exception that it would enter into force by mid-summer," he adds.
The Panama agreement is moving ahead with the tentative date of Oct. 1 as the implementation date. The Panama National Assembly gave its approval of the FTA last year, but Panama still has legislation that must be approved before the FTA can take effect.
In the case of Colombia and Panama, several trade capacity building initiatives are needed in various areas, including the administration of tariff rate quotas. Gaibler says the grains council has offered assistance in particular on both the corn and sorghum TRQs. In addition, the organization will hold meetings later in April with Colombian government officials, feed millers and livestock and poultry producers to work with them to encourage the government to provide an emergency or special duty exemption to allow added quantities of corn and sorghum over and above the TRQ level.