US-Panama FTA to Boost Farm Trade
A free trade agreement (FTA) between the United States and Panama is expected to go into effect in early November once Panama puts the finishing touches on the pact.
“The United States and Panama are on the eve of bringing an historic trade agreement into force,” noted Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro recently.
Already, the U.S. ranks as Panama’s largest trade partner.
The free trade pact, approved by the U.S. Congress nearly a year ago, will immediately eliminate Panama’s tariffs on 86 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial goods, including autos, chemicals, electrical equipment, information technology and medical technology once it comes into force. It also will immediately eliminate Panama’s tariffs on roughly 50 percent of U.S. agriculture exports.
Panama’s remaining agricultural, industrial and consumer product tariffs are phased out over longer periods of time.
ConAgra Asks Suppliers to Ban Gestation Crates by 2017
ConAgra Foods is the latest food company taking steps to eliminate gestation crates for animals. Recently, the company requested its pork suppliers to submit plans showing how the crates will be eliminated by 2017.
The crates are under increased scrutiny. Animal rights activists say they are inhumane because they are barely bigger than the pigs themselves.
Animals should be allowed to move, mother pigs shouldn’t be crammed into a cage so small she can’t turn around her whole life, remarked Josh Balk of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
USDA: Farm Exports to Reach Historic Highs in 2013
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting record high agricultural exports for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.
“Even with tough odds due to extreme weather, agriculture is now poised for three consecutive years of record exports,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Specifically, exports of food and agricultural products are expected to reach $143.5 billion in fiscal 2013, well above the record set in 2011. At the same time, the forecast for fiscal 2012 is revised upward to a near-record $136.5 billion. Since 2009, U.S. agricultural exports have made gains of 50 percent.
Secretary Vilsack added that agriculture is stronger today than at any time in the nation’s history, supporting and creating good American jobs for millions. He also called on Congress to help ensure that this success continues by passing a comprehensive, multi-year farm bill.
Walmart Ahead On Sustainability Goals
Walmart’s sustainability index that evaluates the environmental impacts of its products is rolling out ahead of schedule.
According to Andrea Thomas, senior vice president at Walmart, the company has already met its goal to implement its scorecard to buyers in more than 100 categories, and will add another 100 categories by the end of the year.
In addition, Walmart Brazil introduced a new monitoring system for its beef suppliers. The monitoring system is intended to prevent the company from utilizing suppliers that contribute to deforestation of the Amazon.
Walmart will have 50 percent of its beef supply chain in Brazil tracked by the end of 2012; 75 percent by the end of 2013; and completion slated for the end of 2014, explained Walmart Brazil’s sustainability director.
FDA May Consider New Standards for Arsenic in Rice
The Food and Drug Administration may consider new standards for arsenic levels in rice following pressure from consumer groups seeking federal guidance on how much of the carcinogen can be present in food.
Rice is believed to contain higher arsenic levels than most other foods because it is grown in water on the ground, which creates optimal conditions for the contaminant to be absorbed in the rice. There are no federal standards for how much arsenic is allowed in food.
The FDA is in the midst of a study involving 1,200 samples of grocery-store rice products—short and long-grain rice, adult and baby cereals, drinks and even rice cakes—to measure arsenic levels.