U.S. Congress committees vote to advance free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, could result in US$386M in additional dairy exports, International Dairy Foods Assn. says; cheese, ice cream, others could see reduced trade barriers

WASHINGTON , July 14, 2011 (press release) – In "mock" markups held last week by the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee, the members voted to advance the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. IDFA welcomed the progress, but the road to final approval and implementation is still a rocky one.

The Senate committee, controlled by Democrats, issued a version of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement including legislation to renew the controversial Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which provides financial aid and training to displaced workers. The version released by the House committee, which has a Republican majority, did not include a renewal of TAA.

The onus for action now rests with President Obama, who still plans to submit his version to Congress for an up-or-down vote under "fast track" authority before the August recess, possibly as early as next week. The process is likely to be complicated, however, because the president is expected to submit the Korea pact with TAA included as part of the formal legislation. Many key Republicans oppose such a move, saying they want to vote on the training program in a separate bill. In addition, many in Washington expect the administration to remained focus on the federal debt-ceiling negotiations, pushing trade agreements into the background for now.

"IDFA will continue to monitor the evolving situation for members, while continuing to emphasize the importance of passing all three trade agreements," said John Kelly, IDFA manager of international affairs. "These free trade agreements could collectively result in up to $386 million in additional dairy exports."

Dairy products that would see significant reductions in trade barriers through these agreements include cheeses, ice cream, whey and whey products, milk protein concentrates and milk powders.

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