The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), which represents US dairy producers, has expressed its "strong support" for the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, sent by President Bush to Congress for fast-track approval on Tuesday (8 April).

However, the IDFA also voiced its disappointment with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's announced intention to change House rules for trade negotiating authority and indefinitely delay the vote.

"We have consistently supported this agreement since it was inked in 2006 and renegotiated last year," said IDFA President and CEO Connie Tipton. "It's definitely time for the pact to receive an up-or-down vote based on its merits, which are many for the dairy industry. Playing political games and changing the rules in midstream will only hinder our country's ability to broker fair and effective trade agreements with international partners in the future."

As exports have become increasingly important to US producers, the IDFA has strongly supported free trade agreements which will give greater market access internationally. US dairy product exports have tripled over the past five years, reaching a record high of US$3bn in 2007.

US dairy exports to Colombia last year reached $6.6m. The agreement would see Colombia immediately eliminate tariffs on nearly 52% of US agriculture trade, and phase out the remaining tariffs within 15 years.

The IDFA said US dairy exporters would therefore gain immediate duty-free, quota-free access for whey and lactose exports, as well as increased quotas for cheese, ice cream and processed dairy products.

"The United States has become a serious player in the global trade for dairy products, and decreasing foreign trade barriers is the key to increasing our exports," Tipton said. "Under this agreement, our dairy exports would be poised for far greater growth."