Opinion Columns & Blogs

Free-trade agreements help create local jobs

In a state such as Kansas where the number of cattle processed per year — 6. 5 million — is more than double the size of the human population, it's abundantly clear that trade is an essential component of the economy.

Unfortunately, our ability to export the abundance of America and realize the potential of trade is being blocked by tariffs and other trade barriers put in place to make our meat and poultry products less competitive in international markets. And those markets can be very tough to open.

Fortunately, opportunity is knocking on our front door in the form of three free-trade agreements — with South Korea, Colombia and Panama — that were negotiated more than 1,090 days ago during the Bush administration but are still awaiting approval by Congress. Passage and full implementation of these three pending agreements would represent the potential creation of 29,500 new jobs, fueled by the additional $2.3 billion in additional meat and poultry exports.

Passage of the agreements could increase U.S. exports of beef by $1.4 billion, pork by $772 million and poultry by $102 million. And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service and industry sources, for every $1 billion of product sold, there exists the potential to create either 12,700 jobs in the beef industry; 13,300 jobs in the pork industry; or 11,800 jobs in the poultry industry.

These figures only represent opening up trade with three countries out of a potential pool of several dozen. So though the meat and poultry industry is the largest segment of U.S. agriculture, every other sector would benefit from these agreements as well. In fact, overall, USDA estimates that every $1 received from agricultural exports generates another $1.48 in supporting business activities here in the United States. The bottom line is that promoting exports translates into new jobs at home.

Naturally, this would also mean jobs and revenue for Kansas. While the U.S. meat and poultry industry contributes about $832 billion in total to the U.S. economy — nearly 6 percent of the gross domestic product — a significant portion of that is in the Sunflower State. Nearly one-fifth of the cattle processed in the United States come from Kansas. In fact, the meat industry employs an estimated 70,400 people in Kansas, who earn nearly $2.2 billion in wages and have an economic footprint of nearly $10.8 billion.

Surprisingly, despite this country's imperative to create new and good-paying jobs and foster economic growth, the major forces blocking these agreements from being passed are domestic, not foreign. Protectionists who foster a "fortress America" mentality fail to see that international trade actually diversifies our economy, expands employment opportunities and allows us to enjoy the benefits of growth.

Our competitors are taking advantage of our hesitation to get these agreements signed. The Canadian Senate recently gave final approval to a free-trade agreement with Colombia, ensuring that exports of Canadian meat and poultry products, in addition to other agricultural goods, will now have immediate market-access advantage over U.S. products in the Colombian market.

Congress needs to have enough faith in the determination and ingenuity of the American people and the excellence of our goods that it will pass these agreements and allow us to compete on a level playing field in other markets. If it fails to do so, American agriculture will lose these opportunities to our competitors in other countries.