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Trade deals: three big winners from America's new free-trade agreements

Trade deals passed by Congress Wednesday could be double-edged, but several economic sectors look set to gain the most from the trade deals with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.

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While Colombia and Panama have ratified their pacts, South Korea has yet to do so.

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Here’s a look at who in the US might profit most from the three deals:

Agriculture. The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) estimates farmers will get about $2.5 billion in new orders. That could result in an additional 22,500 jobs in various sectors that bring goods to market, from truckers to longshoremen.

The bulk of the orders would come from Korea, which will be removing tariffs protecting its own farmers and ranchers. For the US this could benefit everyone from the almond growers of California to the big ranching and hog farming operations in the Midwest.

“We are looking at two-thirds of the tariffs we face eliminated right away,” says Chris Garza, senior director of congressional relations at the AFBF in Washington. “It is quite significant for us.”

US farmers will also get the opportunity to win back some customers in Colombia, which used to be one of the top export markets in South America until Colombia joined the Mercosur trade bloc. In 2008, the US had 78 percent of the corn, wheat, and soybean market in Colombia. By 2010 it was down 21 percent.

US farmers also expect to pickup about $46 million in sales in Panama, mostly as a result of more livestock sales.

Ports. The nation’s port operators expect more freight traffic, which means more jobs or hours for stevedores, crane operators, and tugboat crews. The Port of Corpus Christi, Texas, the nation’s fifth largest, is gearing up to ship Wyoming-produced high-grade coal used in steel making. “Korea is a natural for coal,” says John LaRue, executive director.

Auto industry. The International Trade Commission, a nonpartisan federal agency, expects that US automakers will see some large percentage increases in Korea. But, given the small market share, the actual increase would be small in terms of value. US auto companies would also have to work around the various certification requirements and standards.

Other. The US is also expected to sell more scrap, plastic, chemical feed stocks, and electronic components to Korea. However, many of these products will be used to make computers, television sets, and electronic games that are exported to the US, “exacerbating the trade deficit with Korea,” writes Robert Scott, in an analysis for the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington.

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