Given the changing political landscape in Washington, D.C., trade proponents say they hope trade issues will receive greater priority in Congress in 2011. But surveys indicating growing public skepticism about the benefits of free trade could complicate the future of U.S. policy.
Conventional wisdom says that with a new Republican majority in the House starting in January, trade-related issues would get a better hearing, says David Salmonsen, a trade specialist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Compared to the last two years where we couldn’t do much of anything related to trade with Congress, the outlook for trade-related legislation and activities is looking better,” Salmonsen notes. “But it’s still going to take work.”
Some Views Are Unknown
Trade was a not a big issue in most congressional races, he noted, and some new members of the Republican caucus did not run as traditional Republicans in their campaigns, so their views on trade issues remain unclear.
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that at full implementation, the South Korean free trade agreement would increase U.S. agricultural trade by $1.8 billion annually. Together with the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements, the United States could benefit from nearly $3 billion in additional exports, according to AFBF.
Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League, says his organization has been generally in support of free trade agreements and expanding markets, since nearly 40 percent of table grapes and about 20 percent of tree fruit are exported.
But he says the Obama administration’s lack of action in resolving a 20-month trade dispute with Mexico “is in direct contradiction to what they’re saying about the importance of trade.”
Trade Support Decreasing
According to a recent post-election poll by the Pew Research Center, support for free trade agreements is now at one of its lowest levels in the 13 years the studies have been done. Some 44 percent of people surveyed say free trade agreements have been bad for the country, while 35 percent say they’ve been good.
Bedwell says trade has been painted by some interest groups as having a negative impact on jobs.
California Farm Bureau Federation recently published this article on its Web site at www.cfbf.com.
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