During a teleconference with reporters Secretary of Agriculture said that President Obama's sending the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama to Congress is an import step not only for trade but also for jobs here at home. He says that not only will they support thousands of jobs but will also add billions of dollars of economic activity to the economy.
"When approved, these agreements will clear the way for new American exports around the world," Vilsack said. "Creating jobs and providing income opportunities to our agricultural producers, the small businesses that will be assisting in the export of those agricultural products and the rural communities from which they come."
Vilsack says American agriculture will benefit to the extent of $2.3 billion in additional exports, which will support 20,000 jobs in the U.S. He says he believes that Congress will work swiftly to pass these trade agreements to level the playing field with these trading partners who have signed numerous free trade agreements with other nations.
"Over the past two years as our nation has rebounded from the worst recession in decades American agriculture has been a bright light," Vilsack said. "We've shattered trade records and we've created jobs. These agreements will help us build on that success, increase income levels and provide more opportunities for businesses and employment opportunities around the country."
The agreements were negotiated five years ago and have been languishing ever since. Vilsack was asked why it took so long for the trade agreements to be sent to Congress.
"President Obama decided there was need to strengthen the nature of the agreements," Vilsack said. "So when we came into office he went through an aggressive effort to renegotiate portions of each one of these agreements to strengthen them and make them better."
Vilsack also mentioned the need for Trade Adjustment Assistance and the House of Representatives wanting to deal with the agreements as a package rather than individually as reasons for the delay.
Despite his statements that the Administration believes that Congress will act quickly and pass the free trade agreements, Vilsack was asked what assurances they had from Congress, particularly in the House of Representatives where much of the struggle has taken place, that they will act and vote to pass it.
"We have the commitment of the Speaker of the House," Vilsack said. "The speaker in his statement indicated a strong desire to move the trade agreements and Trade Adjustment Assistance efforts, so I take him at his word and I believe we all should."
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that these agreements would be the "top priority" on the House's agenda.