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September 26, 2011   Email to Friend 

Brett Hall, Alabama Dept. of Ag & Industries
(334) 240-7101
September 26, 2011

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Chances for passage of the three free trade agreements improved greatly with recent developments in Congress, according to Commissioner John McMillan of the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries. But, he said, momentum can be lost if partisanship takes precedence over progress and jobs creation.

"We've been it before with similar trade agreements - at first, there's a flurry of activity and passage seems assured, but then something happens to kill any chance of ratification," McMillan said during a meeting of North Alabama leaders.

Speaker John Boehner on Friday opened the door for the U.S. House of Representatives to act on free trade legislation, signalling bipartisan cooperation on issues that previously kept the Obama administration from sending the agreements to congress for ratification, according to McMillan.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, which Obama and the Democrats have said is necessary prior to ratifying the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. Boehner said Friday that chances in the House are good for passage of trade adjustment legislation, a package of protections for workers displaced by foreign trade. He added that the president must first send the three free trade bills, which will be taken up alongside trade adjustment.

McMillan, in support of the free trade legislation, has stated that passage of free trade will open the way to generate thousands of jobs for Alabama, especially in agriculture and agribusiness.

"For every $1 billion in export trade from Alabama, at least 15,000 new jobs are created," he said, quoting U.S. Commerce Department sources.

Government economists warn that if Congress fails to ratify the trade agreements, U.S. businesses stand to lose 380,000 jobs. But, if FTA does pass, there will be a net gain of 350,000 jobs.

"The stakes are too high, and everyone, especially farmers and agribusiness in Alabama, has an obligation to do everything they can to assure ratification of these agreements," McMillan said. "Make no mistake: we need these jobs."

Specifically important to North Alabama and the Tennessee Valley region, the free trade agreements will open up foreign market opportunities for exporting cotton, whose prices now are at 150-year highs. The same goes for poultry, beef, corn and soybeans, all of which North Alabama farmers produce in abundance.


  • Foreign sales generate jobs. Every $1 billion in exports means 15,000 jobs for Alabama citizens, and 15 percent of all Alabama manufacturing sector workers depend on exports for their jobs.

  • The US-Korean FTA will make Alabama products more affordable to Korean consumers as more than half of Alabama exports there would be duty-free and tariff elimination for over 95 percent of U.S. exports of consumer and industrial products within five years.

  • Colombia is Alabama's 21st largest export market and the ratified trade agreement when reached mean that nearly 60 percent of Alabama export products will be duty-free. Exports to Colombia of US goods are expected to increase by over $1.1 billion when the FTA is enacted.

  • Finally, upon enactment of the trade agreement with Panama, 88 percent of goods exported to their markets will be duty-free. Panama is one of the fastest-growing economies in Central America, set to grow 8.5 percent this year and for the next four years.

  • We must avail ourselves of our proximity to these, and other emerging Latin American markets which represent the fastest-growing export zone. We export three times as much to Latin America as to China.

  • Alabama faces a unique opportunity to transform its economy by becoming a leader in exports of agricultural and consumer products, logistics, service and export-oriented manufacturing activities.

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