House Committee Clears Path for Free Trade Agreements

By October 5, 2011General

The House Ways & Means Committee marked up legislation for the pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea this morning. This is the opening act of the closing chapter, so to speak, and we hope it will not be too long before President Obama is signing the agreements into law. Next up – the House will vote on the 3 agreements next Wednesday and send them to the Senate. Senator Reid has promised rapid action over on his side of the Capitol once he receives the bills.

Had anyone forecasted, in late January, that we’d have these long-languishing job-creating agreements completed – potentially by Halloween – the remark would have been met with derisive laughter. Colombia was signed in November 2006; Panama and Korea in June 2007. They have faced strong opposition, fueled by outrageous claims that they will hurt American jobs and the economy.

Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, lack of action on these agreements over the last 5 years is what has caused harm to our economic recovery and manufacturing jobs. Multiple studies produced by U.S. Government agencies, including the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and the Commerce Department show these agreements will create as much as $13 billion in new exports, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Given manufactured goods are the majority of U.S. exports to Colombia, Panama and South Korea, these trade agreements are really manufacturing agreements.

The United States has a manufactured goods trade surplus with our 17 trade agreement partners – accumulating to nearly $70 billion over the last 3 years. At the same time, we have a deficit with those countries where we have no agreements. FTAs open foreign markets and drive our exports. More, and faster, is the prescription – not few and slower.

We are, thankfully, nearly at the end of the road on this process. It is now time. There is a sense of unreality in a way that after so long, we are moving so quickly. But the fact is we are racing to catch up to our competitors in Europe, Canada, Korea and elsewhere. They have spent the last 5 years in a flurry of trade agreement negotiations that have left manufacturing in America in a state of disadvantage. Today’s markup and next week’s votes need to be a down payment on a far more ambitious trade agenda.

Doug Goudie is director of international trade policy, National Association of Manufacturers.

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