The Obama Administration continues to move forward on increasing its commitment to an ambitious trade agenda by announcing its support for the last of the three pending free trade agreements (FTAs) – the agreement with Colombia, which has long been the most contentious. This morning U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Kirk sent a letter to Congress indicating that USTR “has completed its preparatory work on the Agreement and stands ready to begin technical discussions with Members of Congress on the draft implementing bill and draft Statement of Administrative Action.” That means, let’s get to work on Colombia. This is a another positive step forward for the U.S. trade agenda. For years, our mantra has been “we want all three as quickly as possible.” We appreciate the work of USTR and the Administration to get to this point and look forward to working with them on moving forward.
Now, we’ve got all three on the line. It’s time to move them through Congress as soon as possible. In January, Ways and Means Chairman Camp told USTR Kirk at a hearing that he wanted to pass all three pending trade agreements by July 1. At the time, that seemed an impossible dream, we were certainly skeptical.
The NAM has been working for years to build support for these three pending FTAs – and we will double our efforts. Manufacturers know these preferential trade agreements – which open foreign markets to our exports — are key to economic growth and job creation in America. These agreements will mean $9 billion annually in increased manufacturing exports to these three trading partners, according to the USITC.
The Colombian government under President Santos should be congratulated for their efforts in addressing the issues raised in the action plan announced a few weeks ago – but also for their independent efforts on domestic reforms that go far beyond anything ever discussed with the United States. Their work builds on the foundation laid by former President Alvaro Uribe, who presided over the negotiation of the agreement and who, over his two terms, did so much to strengthen and preserve Colombia.
There is a great deal of work to be done if we are to pass all three agreements by July 1. That date was not plucked out of thin air – it is the day that the EU-Korea and Canada-Colombia trade agreements enter into force, and our competitors’ manufactured goods and agriculture products gain a preferential advantage over ours. Our competitors are moving forward, and are far ahead of us in many markets. With today’s notification of the Colombia FTA we’re finally moving in the race. All we need is a good finishing kick to get over the line.
Doug Goudie is director of international trade policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.