The USA Rice Federation has called on Congress to approve the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

“This free trade agreement is one of the best bilateral trade deals negotiated for U.S. rice,” said Al Montna, USARF chairman and California rice producer on April 8. “We urge Congress to look at the merits of this agreement and to vote their approval.”

“While rice was very sensitive for Colombia and the agreement has a long transition period to free trade, U.S. rice producers and exporters picked-up significant near term gains via a large, duty-free, tariff rate quota,” said Tommy Hoskyn, a Stuttgart, Ark., rice producer and chairman of the USA Rice Producers’ Group, a member organization of the USA Rice Federation.

The U.S.-Colombia FTA establishes an initial tariff rate quota (TRQ) of 79,000 metric tons, milled basis, for U.S. rice, with Colombian imports of U.S. rice being duty free within the TRQ. U.S. rice exports to Colombia averaged just less than 3,100 tons from 2003 to 2007. An out-of-quota duty of 80 percent is charged on imports above the TRQ.

“This TRQ will be administered in the United States and will provide revenue across the U.S. rice industry as well as to our partners in Colombia,” Hoskyn said. “The TRQ will also grow over time and the over-quota tariff rate will steadily decline until free trade in rice occurs. This is an agreement Congress should pass.”

U.S. and Colombian negotiators completed the free trade agreement on Feb. 27, 2006. Changes were later made to the agreement’s labor and environment provisions, but implementation requires legislative approval in both the United States and Colombia.

On April 8, President Bush transmitted the free trade agreement to Congress in order start the clock ticking under provisions of Trade Promotion Authority (frequently called fast-track).

The House will take up the measure first and has 60 legislative days to vote. An additional 30 legislative days are permitted for Senate consideration. For the FTA to come into effect, Congress must vote to approve.