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Free Trade Agreements Could Mean More Exports, Costlier Food

Cow in Indiana

Photo: Renee Johnson (Flickr)

The U.S. Agriculture Secretary says beef prices could increase if the U.S. does not keep funding agriculture research.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says free trade agreements between the United States and Panama, Colombia and South Korea can be beneficial for the country. But he cautions the agreements could have downsides if the U.S. fails to adequately fund necessary agriculture research.

Vilsack says the free trade agreements are particularly good news for the agricultural industry. He estimates agriculture exports could increase by as a much as $2 billion as a result.

“Every billion dollars of additional ag trade adds 8,400 jobs to the economy so we’re talking about not only better bottom lines for farmers and ranchers but also more employment opportunities for folks across the country,” he says.

But even supporters of the deals say there could be negative side effects. Those include the potential for increased beef prices at American supermarkets due to decreases in supply.

Vilsack says he is not concerned about the ability of American producers to respond to increased demand. His concern lies with cuts to agricultural research. He says there is a strong correlation between agriculture research and productivity.

“If you begin to flat line ag research as we’ve done in the recent past you risk that you might flat line ag productivity,” Vilsack says.

President Obama formally signed the trade agreements Friday.

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