It was a busy and very positive day for a forward-looking trade policy in Congress, to be sure. Over in the House, Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) called a hearing of the full Ways and Means Committee to examine the importance of passing the pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Korea and Panama, and their impact on job creation and economic growth. The National Association of Manufacturers was represented by Roy Paulson, president of safety equipment manufacturer Paulson Manufacturing, based in Temecula, Calif. Paulson exports to more than 80 countries, including the three with pending FTAs, and he was plain, direct and straightforward in telling the Committee that his exports to those nations will increase once their tariffs are removed with passage of the FTAs. (Prepared testimony.)
The same theme was echoed by all the witnesses at the hearing – themes well familiar to anyone who’s spent time reading this blog. The United States, with very low tariff rates, is open to the world. Many of the fastest-growing markets for our exports have high barriers. Trade agreements remove those barriers, drive U.S. exports and create jobs and economic growth here in America. If we chose to sit on the sidelines, as we have for the past four years, our competitors in Europe, Latin America and Asia will seize these markets with trade agreements of their own. Instead of preferential access for our manufactured goods exports, we will be confirmed as the suppliers of higher priced goods. Market share will dwindle. Instead of increasing production at home for consumption abroad, we’ll be cutting production and losing markets. That’s a recipe for job losses and economic contraction.
As Cong. Peter Roskam (R-IL) noted at the close of the hearing (relying on notes): “The time to say we’re thinking about these agreements is over. The time to act on them and reap the benefits has arrived.” It is, in fact, well overdue, as anyone who exports to Colombia, Korea or Panama knows. We could have had these barriers down in 2007, well ahead of the competing FTAs our competitors are now rushing to complete. The President and Congress need to move quickly on all three agreements in the first half of 2011. The votes are there, as Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) noted at the start of the hearing.
Leaving the House, we move to a bipartisan effort on trade in the Senate, where Rob Portman (R-OH) — who was President Bush’s Trade Representative — and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced a bill today that would move all three agreements AND provide President Obama with Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). (Lieberman and Portman issued a joint news release.
The bill, titled “Creating American Jobs Through Exports Act of 2011” is a welcome development from two Senators who recognize the importance of expanding our access to foreign markets. Every President, regardless of their political views, needs to have Trade Promotion Authority. President Clinton used his authority to negotiate several key agreements. So did President Bush. President Obama recognizes the need for increased exports as a way to create manufacturing jobs and build a sustained economic recovery. The no-cost-to-the-taxpayer way to generate growth through exports is to sign more trade agreements. Having TPA makes the job of negotiating and completing agreements easier.
Tonight, President Obama will certainly touch on the need for more jobs and more growth. He can look at the bicameral, bipartisan developments that took place today as a good blueprint to follow.