Friday, March 18, 2011

Ag Secretary Vilsack Visits Long Beach Port To Pump Exports, Korean Trade Agreement

United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the Port of Long Beach Wednesday pushing the importance of sustaining the record-breaking productivity of America's farmers and ranchers with increased export opportunities while simultaneously trying to drum up support for the United States-Korean Trade Agreement, which currently awaits congressional ratification.

Vilsack, joined by Long Beach elected officials and California agriculture business leaders, also highlighted President Obama's National Export Initiative (NEI), a program intended to coordinate federal efforts to double US exports by 2014 with the potential to create several million new domestic jobs. The secretary said that the NEI is providing support to provide opportunities for both large and small businesses to reach the 95 percent of the world's consumers whom live outside the United States.

"US farmers and ranchers are seeing record sales of farm goods abroad, which means the agricultural economy is growing and jobs are being created. We must continue growing the economy, and Congress must focus on passing smart trade deals like the US-Korea Trade Agreement that will increase exports and support job creation," Vilsack said.

Economic output is estimated to grow more under US-Korea agreement than from the United States' last nine trade agreements combined, Vilsack said.

That type of growth, he argued, would bring additional jobs to ports like Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The first- and second- busiest seaports in the Western Hemisphere, respectively, the two ports handle more than $140 billion worth of cargo a year. In addition, the Port supports roughly 60,000 jobs in the two cities, about 600,000 jobs throughout Southern California, nearly 900,000 in California and 2.84 million jobs nationwide.

Vilsack argued that the US-Korea Trade Agreement will add tens of thousands of jobs to the US economy, especially in major agriculture-producing states like California. The US-Korea Trade Agreement would eliminate tariffs on a variety of American goods – including agricultural products like grains, fruits and vegetables, and beef – while adding tens of thousands of jobs to our economy.

The trade agreement had languished in discussions for nearly three years before being singed by President Obama in December 2010. Congress has yet to ratify the agreement, mainly over disagreement by some congress members on the included language and how it will impact certain regional sectors of the domestic economy.

Vilsack noted that exports of US farm goods in fiscal year 2011 are projected to surpass previous records by $20 billion. The agricultural trade balance – a balance of US exports versus foreign imports – is also projected to set a record surplus of $47.5 billion in 2011.

"Every $1 billion in farm exports supports roughly 8,400 jobs in the United States, and farm exports alone will support more than 1.1 million jobs in 2011," Vilsack said.

In the past five years, California farm exports have appreciated by 30 percent to more than $18.2 billion, supporting more than 150,000 jobs on and off the farm. In 2010, California ports handled a record $35 billion in agricultural exports. California is the nation's largest producer of agricultural products and the top exporting state.

Vilsack also spoke on the continuing need for education outreach to small- and medium- sized businesses on how to break into export markets. Despite recent gains, Vilsack said, only 1 percent of US companies export.