Free trade agreements to benefit Walla Walla area

There should be an increase in exports of wheat, wine, apples and beef.

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WALLA WALLA -- Local wheat, wine, apple and beef producers stand to profit from passage of the free trade agreements by Congress on Wednesday.

The agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia could increase direct exports by $52.8 million per year and support hundreds of agriculture jobs, according to American Farm Bureau estimates.

Apple, wine and wheat producers should be among the immediate beneficiaries of the agreements. Tariffs on those products will come off immediately, while under the South Korean agreement a 40 percent tariff on beef will come off in phases over 15 years.

According to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell's office, the Colombia and Panama agreements are going to have the most immediate impact on Washington state apple exports.

Elimination of tariffs on apples will cause shipments to Colombia from state orchards, including those in Walla Walla County, to increase a minimum of 50 to 100 percent this season and shipments to Panama to rise by 10 to 20 percent over last year's numbers, said Todd Fryhover of the Washington Apple Commission.

Fryhover said today the tariffs to Colombia caused exports to drop from 438,000 cartons in 2009 to 227,000 cases last year. Under the new agreement state growers hope to return to 2009 export levels or go beyond.

South Korea does not currently accept U.S. apples due to pest and disease control standards imposed to protect their own commodities.

"Nonetheless, under the FTA, Korea agreed to eliminate over 10 years the 45 percent tariff on all U.S. apple varieties except Fuji, which will be reduced to zero over 20 years," said Janeen Heath, a spokeswoman with Cantwell's office.

Wheat growers will benefit from the immediate elimination of a 10 percent tariff on exports to Colombia while the South Korean FTA will eliminate a 1.8 percent tariff.

According to American Farm Bureau estimates Washington state is expected to increase wheat exports by $5.9 million per year to Columbia and $1.97 million per year to South Korea.

The South Korean Free Trade Agreement will immediately eliminate a 15 percent tariff on wine, which is expected to help boost exports to that country. Washington state wine exports to South Korea last year, which included Walla Walla vintages, numbered 7,822 cases valued at $570,088, said Ryan Pennington of the Washington State Wine Commission.

Pennington said, however, that figure is the wholesale value of the wine. When other factors are added in, "the true value of the product is much higher."

South Korea is one of the top five export markets for Washington wines, Pennington said. "We feel with the passage of the Fair Trade Agreements and the more favorable tax market, this should lead to South Korea being a much more promising market for the state."

Cantwell, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, hailed passage of the measures today.

"This bill is a winner for Washington state's agricultural and trade economy," Cantwell said in a release. "The Senate passage of these trade agreements has been years in the making. These trade agreements will open up markets to Washington state goods and make sure our products stay competitive in a global economy. They will support jobs in Eastern Washington and across the nation -- from the wheat farm, to the trucks that carry the wheat, to the shipping jobs that send the product overseas."

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said "as a senator from the most trade-dependent state in the nation, I have seen first-hand the strong and positive impact that free trade can have to help local businesses expand and create jobs.

"So at a time when Americans are looking to Congress to do everything we can to get our workers back on the job, I am proud to support these free trade agreements that will give our economy a much-needed boost and help businesses and workers in Washington state and across the nation," she said.

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