WASHINGTON –An ad hoc coalition of food, feed and agricultural entities urged Congress on March 1 to promptly pass several pending free-trade agreements while pointing out that exports generate 8,000 U.S. jobs for every $1 billion of agricultural goods exported, according to the National Pork Producers Council. Trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea are awaiting congressional approval.

Within each pending agreement, many U.S. food and agricultural products would become eligible for duty-free treatment once the agreement is implemented, and nearly all would receive duty-free treatment over specified phase-in periods. In a letter signed by 57 companies and organizations, the coalition – led by the National Pork Producers Council – asked lawmakers to “heed the President’s call to aggressively expand market access opportunities, as our competitors are doing.”

Since other countries are moving forward on a host of trade deals, Congress must act on the pending agreements soon, the coalition urged. South Korea, for example, has concluded, is negotiating or is planning to enter talks on trade agreements with 11 countries, the European Union and blocs representing Southeast Asian and South American nations.

U.S. pork producers would see hog prices rise by $11 a head under the South Korea agreement – the trade pacts would generate thousands of U.S. jobs.

Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture figures, 2008’s $115.4 billion of U.S. agricultural exports supported 920,000 full-time civilian jobs, including 608,000 non-farm jobs. Such economic benefits flow not only to rural communities but also to people working in transportation, processing and at ports, the coalition pointed out.

The coalition said in its letter it “strongly supports” President Obama’s pledge, made in his Jan. 27 State of the Union address, to double U.S. exports within five years as a way to create millions of new jobs. But it also expressed concern about legislation (H.R. 3012 and S. 2821) that would require the administration to demand the re-negotiation of all current or pending trade agreements.