WASHINGTON – After many months of being urged to do so by various segments of the meat, poultry and allied industries, the US Senate and House of Representatives voted in favor of the pending free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea on Oct. 12. The agreements are heading to President Obama for final approval.

Congress put differences aside to pass the trade deals, said Bill Donald, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. He added the president needs to follow suit and ratify the agreements immediately.

“For too long, the trade agreements have been collecting dust,” Donald said. “Congress has finally passed all three trade pacts and the only missing component is the president’s stamp of approval. NCBA has been a leader in educating members on Congress on the importance of these agreements to cattlemen across the country. We strongly urge the president to ratify the agreements today.”

Donald said US cattlemen have a lot to gain when the agreements are fully implemented and a lot to lose with every day the pacts are stalled. The best example of what US cattle producers have to gain is found in the FTA with Korea (KORUS), Donald said. Annual exports of US beef to South Korea are expected to increase as much as $1.8 billion once the agreement is fully implemented, according to the US International Trade Commission.

Implementing KORUS would phase out South Korea’s 40 percent tariff on beef imports over 15 years, with $15 million in tariff benefits for beef in the first year of the agreement alone and about $325 million in tariff reductions annually once fully implemented.

“This president wants to create economic wealth and repopulate rural America,” Donald said. “Doing anything to stymie free and open trade will do anything but create jobs and opportunities for farmers, ranchers and small businesses. We support the president’s goal to increase exports. We need him to end the five-year delay and sign all three agreements.”

“Congress’ passage today of long-stalled free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia is a major victory for America’s agricultural sector, our meat and poultry industry and our economy,” added J. Patrick Boyle, president and CEO of the American Meat Institute.

When fully implemented, these three FTAs have the potential to be the biggest shot in the arm to the meat and poultry industry since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, Boyle said. “Results of an impact study conducted in part by AMI found that full implementation of the three FTAs will represent an additional $2.3 billion in exports and the creation of approximately 29,500 badly needed jobs here at home,” he added.