Nebraska Sen. Mike Johanns, whose state is home to some of the nations largest popcorn producers, said the passage of free-trade agreements earlier this year prove Congress can work productively in a bipartisan way when our leaders are committed to sound policy over political theatrics.
According to the latest Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years, domestic production of popcorn totaled more than 860 million shelled pounds in 2007. Popcorn was grown in 29 states, and the top five major popcorn-producing states in 2007 were Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Iowa, the report said.
The Colombia FTA took several years to get in place with talks beginning in 2004. Colombia’s Congress approved the agreement and a protocol of amendment in 2007. After a push from the White House and Republicans in Congress, the measure was eventually passed by Congress last year along with agreements with South Korea and Panama. Republicans initially complained that Obama delayed sending the agreements to Congress as he sought a deal on a union priority, trade adjustment assistance.
While there was bipartisan support for the agreements, some Democrats and Republicans spoke out against the deals, especially the Colombian FTA over a spate of violence against union members. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) opposed the Colombia FTA.
Krug noted that before the FTA, Colombia would typically buy its popcorn from Argentina. “There are popcorns raised in Europe, Argentina and Brazil, so we have to be competitive, but we can be,” Krug said. “We compete against other farmers in the world, but we can’t compete against other governments” who put U.S. popcorn growers at a competitive disadvantage with tariffs.
“Also we are selling popcorn to Korea, which we had done previously, but it is just going to help us increase our sales,” Krug continued.
Krug estimates he will see a 20 percent increase of exports to South Korea, which is the No. 3 market for U.S. corn exports. The Panama agreement has yet to go into effect.
Krug said that during the negotiations of the agreements he spoke and met with the Nebraska Congressional delegation, including Johanns, Sen. Ben Nelson (D) and Rep. Adrian Smith (R).
Smith said the trade agreements “were a major bipartisan accomplishment for the country. I am especially pleased to see Nebraska’s popcorn industry taking advantage of Colombia and South Korea agreements, which have already gone into force. This is proof that by leveling the playing field for our producers and manufacturers, we can expand economic opportunity here at home.”
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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