U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is testifying before the House Ways & Means Committee on the Obama Administration’s trade agenda this morning. I am sitting in the hearing, and there is good news and bad news.
Good news: We are extremely pleased to hear Ambassador Kirk indicate the timeline for Congressional consideration of the Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is “weeks.” (Ambassador Kirk’s opening statement.) The European Union’s FTA with Korea (to be approved next month) threatens U. S. manufacturing exports to Korea, and swift completion of our agreement is necessary to keep our competitive balance.
Bad news: No real new thoughts on how to move our languishing agreements with Colombia and Panama. Amb. Kirk did say the Administration will “immediately intensify our engagement to resolve the outstanding issues with Colombia and Panama so that Congress can consider them this year.”
We did that with Korea on autos, and it resulted in real improvements to that agreement. The National Association of Manufacturers supported the supplemental agreement.
But it took six months, and addressed a real problem of specific market access. With Colombia and Panama, the issues are not specific. In fact, we would argue they aren’t even real issues. We would argue that the enforceable labor provisions included in our agreements as a result of the May 10 2007 bipartisan agreement addressed these concerns.
Efforts have also been made by Colombia and Panama in recent years. Colombia was removed from the International Labor Organization’s watch list this year. In short, this Administration has had two years to provide an actionable list of concerns. As Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) has just noted, these agreements were signed in 2007, and it is now 2011.
Chairman Camp (R-MI) has just asked Ambassador Kirk to elucidate the outstanding issues in Colombia, noting the agreement was signed in 2007. “We need to address underlying concerns on labor rights” was the response.
“We need specifics and an action plan, we need benchmarks” responded the Chairman.
We couldn’t agree more. What I am fairly certain about is that our competitors in Europe, Canada, Korea and MERCOSUR have a pretty specific list of manufactured products they’ll be shipping to Colombia and Panama as they take advantage of THEIR trade agreements.
American workers benefit from our nation’s exports. Exports create jobs in American factories. Agreements with Colombia and Panama will lead to billions in increased U. S. exports. We need all 3 agreements. And we need them now. In fact, we needed them in 2007.