Timmons on Free Trade in the Daily Caller

NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons highlights the pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea and discusses why they are critical to U.S. competitiveness this morning in the Daily Caller. He writes,

The pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea offer our elected officials a choice — support economic expansion and job growth or retreat from the world economy and watch U.S. manufacturing stagnate as our foreign competitors thrive. U.S. manufacturers are eager to remove the burdens on trade and grow their businesses.

The trade agreements have been pending for years now, and it’s time for Congress and the President to act.

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Governors Push for FTA Approval

This week the Senate Finance Committee holds two hearings on pending free trade agreements (FTAs).  Tomorrow, the committee will consider the Panama FTA, and Thursday the committee will turn to the South Korea agreement.

Ahead of those hearings, 25 governors have written congressional leaders urging them to pass the Colombia, Panama, and Korea FTAs.  The bipartisan group writes,

As the chief executives of our respective states and territories, we appreciate how important international trade and investment are to the economic vitality of our jurisdictions, presenting important opportunities for workers, and enhancing our overall competitiveness.  Export-related jobs pay better than non-exporting industries and, with nearly 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside of the U.S., exports have been the focus of increased job growth in recent years.

These trade agreements have been awaiting congressional approval since 2007 (and 2006 for the Colombia deal).

Read the whole letter here.

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Recognizing the Doha Round is Broken

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade ministers who met in Big Sky, Montana, today finally took a hard-nosed look at the state of the World Trade Organization Doha negotiations and admitted that what the United States has been saying for several years: the gaps in expectations for opening new market opportunities around the world are unbridgeable in the current context.  As Ambassador Kirk noted, “we are not in good shape.”  

We welcome this recognition of reality that should help the WTO move forward in a constructive way, rather than continuing to chase its tail in a desperate hope that given enough time the pieces will magically fall into place. 

So the question now becomes what to do with the pieces of Doha that aren’t broken.  We hope that in this period of reflection WTO Members will give serious consideration to moving ahead in concluding negotiations in areas that can garner consensus. One of these issues should be the trade facilitation negotiations aimed at simplifying and speeding procedures for getting goods through customs formalities.

In an age when a large portion of exports are delivered in hours by air rather than weeks or months by sea, the length of time and costs of customs clearance procedures needs to be reduced so components can get to manufacturers and finished products to customers more rapidly. This is not a zero-sum negotiation that involves mercantilist concessions; it is classic win-win. 

Ministers should also give greater consideration to so-called plurilateral agreements that don’t require every WTO country to sign on, such as the Information Technology Agreement. It should be expanded to provide zero-duty treatment for more high-tech products. The existing agreement dating from 1997 has been very successful and reduced costs for manufacturers that rely on information technology products to enhance their competitiveness. There could be other plurilateral agreements that could garner sufficient support–perhaps environmental goods and services.

The WTO is a strong and vital organization and its value should not be assessed on what happens with the Doha negotiations. An organization that deals forthrightly with the situation it faces will be a strong one. 

As is said, the first step to recovery is the recognition that there is a problem.

Stephen Jacobs is senior director of international business policy, National Association of Manufacturers.  

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Tackling Trade Barriers

Today, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk issued the annual National Trade Estimate (NTE) report to Congress which describes significant barriers to U.S. trade and investment plus the actions USTR and others in the U.S. government are taking to address them. Click here to go to the report. Again this year, USTR has issued, along with the NTE, parallel reports on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs) and Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Barriers.  The National Association of Manufacturers welcomes the identification of these barriers and urges the USTR to go on to seeking their elimination. 

Manufacturers are adversely affected by non-tariff barriers including  standards and conformity assessment issues around the world.  They can add significantly to the cost of an export, often a multiple of the tariff rate that is charged.  For example, a report on the impact of non-tariff barriers in Asia found that they can have a tariff equivalent ranging from 11.7% to 58.5% in one country and ranging from 6.3% to 60.5% in another! 

The NAM recognizes that not all non-tariff trade barriers are illegal under international trade rules.  However, when the U.S. negotiates a trade agreement, it has the opportunity to seek the elimination of many of these non-tariff barriers…just as it has done in the pending Korea, Colombia and Panama Free Trade Agreements.  So if we want to get serious about tackling non-tariff barriers, the United States must pass these three FTAs and negotiate more.

 To tackle the barriers you have got to get into the game.

Stephen Jacobs is director of international business policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.

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Hearing Set on Trade Pacts as Senators, WaPo Call for Action

From the Senate Republicans, @Senate_GOP:

At 3:30 ET today, Leader McConnell, Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Sen. @robportman will hold a press conference on free trade agreements.

Sens. McConnell, Hatch, and @robportman will call for immediate action from the president on pending free trade agreements.

Washington Post editorial, “Time to act on free trade:U.S. agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama should be approved — soon“:

The potential for a trade policy train wreck is real. Everyone needs to focus less on the political tit for tat and more on the policy case for getting these deals done as soon as possible, which is clear and strong. “It is time to identify the specific steps Colombia and Panama must take to move forward,” Mr. Baucus said Wednesday, “so we can finally approve our free-trade agreements with these countries, increase U.S. exports and create jobs here at home.” From a Democrat, that can hardly be considered unfriendly advice, and Mr. Obama would be wise to take it.

House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, “Brady Announces First in a Series of Three Hearings on the Pending, Job-Creating Trade Agreements“:

Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX), Chairman, Subcommittee on Trade of the Committee on Ways and Means, today announced that the Subcommittee will hold a series of hearings on the pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. According to the President’s own statements, these agreements have the ability to create over 250,000 American jobs. The first hearing will address the agreement with Colombia. The hearing will take place on Thursday, March 17, 2011, in the main Committee hearing room, 1100 Longworth House Office Building, beginning at 10:00 A.M. The Subcommittee will soon advise regarding hearings on the trade agreements with Panama and South Korea.

Testifying on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers will be William D. Marsh, vice president legal – Western Hemisphere — for  Baker Hughes. Also scheduled to testify is Ambassador Miriam Sapiro of the U.S. Trade Representatives Office.

The USTR on Tuesday also hosts the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea on its annual visit to Washington, D.C. Last week U.S. and Colombian officials met in Washington to discuss the pending FTA. (Also here.)

The Miami Herald reports on President Obama’s upcoming trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, “President Obama’s Latin agenda takes shape.”

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Senators Tell Administration: Move All Three Trade Agreements

U.S. Trade Representative Kirk testified on the President’s 2011 Trade Agenda at the Senate Finance Committee this morning. As expected, the focus was squarely on lack of progress on the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements. Unfortunately, despite an advance request by the Chairman and Ranking Member for a specific timetable on concluding the two agreements, Ambassador Kirk did not provide much of a road map on how the U.S. will proceed in addressing what the Administration feels are outstanding issues in both agreements.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk

When he appeared in front of the House Ways and Means Committee last month, Kirk promised the Administration wants to move the Korea trade agreement (KORUS) as soon as possible, and it would intensify efforts to resolve outstanding issues in the Colombia and Panama agreements so they could be moved as quickly as possible to Congress for approval –- by the end of 2011 if possible. At the time, we argued that all three agreements need to move as quickly as possible. We still absolutely believe this is the way things should proceed. The agreements with Colombia, Korea and Panama have languished since 2007, while our competitors in Europe and Asia continue to move aggressively to open those markets and gain preferential access for their manufactured goods exports.

The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee made it very clear they feel the same way. Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) was crystal clear: “The time is long past to ratify the Colombia agreement,” said, continuing, “None of these agreements will pass unless they are all packaged together this year.” Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told Ambassador Kirk that he was tired of unfulfilled promises on Colombia and Panama. “It is the Administration’s inaction that speaks volumes – and these promises we’ve heard are inadequate,” the Senator said. Sen. Hatch pulled no punches in saying that he will view any attempt to move the KORUS FTA without action on Colombia and Panama in a very negative light. (continue reading…)

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For U.S. Manufacturers, Intellectual Property Rights are a Global Priority

The U.S. Trade Representative is holding a special 301 Review public hearing today at the USITC to examine trade and the protection of intellectual property rights. (Agenda) The National Association of Manufacturers submitted comments. Excerpt:

The NAM emphasizes to the Special 301 Sub-committee that IPR protection and enforcement is an issue for virtually all our members. Manufacturing, yes manufacturing, is as dependent on intellectual property like patents, trademarks, trade secrets, trade dress and copyright as copyright-based industries that receive considerably more attention. Counterfeiting and piracy are existential threats to manufacturers, the people they employ, and the consumers who come in contact with their products and services.

Theft is theft no matter if it is called three-syllable words like “counterfeit” or “piracy”. The trade in fake products supplants legitimate markets, steals our workers’ jobs and puts American and other consumers needlessly at risk as counterfeit pharmaceuticals, unsafe products and even hazardous materials are put into the stream of commerce on a daily basis.

It is simply amazing what products and trademarks counterfeiters and pirates are so willing to steal. While most people are familiar with the counterfeiting of luxury brands because of the cachet that can command premium prices, counterfeiters are willing to engage in criminal activities by selling everyday items such as circuit breakers, extension cords, batteries, fireplace tools, golf clubs, kitchenware, toothpaste, cigarettes windshields – the list can go on and on. Even semiconductor chips that can be used in guidance systems for America’s defense have been counterfeited and found in the United States.

As this nation looks to our economic recovery, it is important to note that IPR theft is an impediment to that recovery. Markets once lost through counterfeiting and/or damaged brands are not readily and easily recovered.

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EU Approves Free Trade Pact with Korea, Gains Edge over U.S.

The European Parliament approved the EU-Korea trade agreement today, with 465 votes in favor, 128 against and 19 abstentions. The agreement will take effect on July 1, 2011, immediately removing the vast majority of Korea’s tariffs on manufactured goods (which average 8 percent) imported from European Union countries. You can read all about it here: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=680

This approval is a notable development, because it is the first time that the European Parliament exercised co-decision powers on trade agreements. Prior to the Lisbon Treaty, approval of trade agreements rested entirely within the Council. Now, the European Parliament must approve all trade agreements signed by the EU – putting them much closer to the U.S. model, where Congress must approve our trade agreements. Many speculated that this agreement might face a closer vote for approval in the EU Parliament. Still, 76 percent voted to approve –- a percentage far higher than most agreements receive in the U.S. Congress. The European Parliament obviously knows what manufacturers in America know: Removing foreign trade barriers is a boon for exports, jobs and economic growth.

The majority of the U.S. Congress knows this too, and wants to approve the three pending trade agreements we have with Korea, Colombia and Panama. Of course, before our Congress can approve trade agreements, they need the President to send them up. Our pending agreements have been awaiting Congressional approval since 2007. The President has indicated he will quickly transmit the U.S.-Korea FTA to Congress with an eye toward seeking approval in a matter of weeks – but that leaves Colombia and Panama languishing.

Together, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) estimates the three agreements are worth more than $13 billion in new U.S. exports. The majority of those exports will be manufactured goods. Tens of thousands of American jobs will be created and sustained as a result of these trade agreements. They remove tariff and non-tariff barriers, open markets for our goods, give our manufactured products preferential treatment. The longer we hesitate, the more our competitors win our market share as they approve their own trade agreements. The time to move on trade is now.

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On Trade: Promises, Promises

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.

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Cross-Border Trucking Plan Boosts Manufacturing Exports to Mexico

We can’t say the Mexican trucking dispute is over, but we can now say that, at last, the end appears to be in sight. Almost two years after Mexico imposed retaliatory tariffs on billions of dollars of American manufactured goods exports, the Obama Administration has released a long-awaited “Concept Document” that provides a foundation that, if it can be successfully turned into a mutually acceptable proposal, will lead to compliance with our NAFTA commitments and the removal of Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs on billions of dollars of U.S. exports.

While release of the interagency document is an excellent development and very good news, we are not out of the woods just yet. It will take substantial effort on the part of the Obama Administration and Congress to work through the concepts in this proposal and create a final agreement acceptable to all parties. Public comments will be solicited. And, of course, the Mexican government will need to be an integral part of any agreement. A solution will need to ensure that Mexican and American cross-border trucking takes place in a manner similar to the existing cross-border trucking that has existed between the United States and Canada. The good news is that a successful solution will speed commerce and increase productivity and efficiency in supply chains.

But only after a final agreement is reached and we are compliant with our NAFTA commitments will the tariffs be removed. And Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs have had an significant impact on a wide variety of industrial sectors across the entire country. For two years, manufacturers around the United States have faced these retaliatory tariffs on their exports to Mexico. As a result, our competitors from Canada, Latin America, China and elsewhere have had an opportunity to increase their market share in Mexico at our expense. We need to move swiftly toward a solution so the tariffs can be eliminated.

Still, we appreciate the efforts put forth by the Administration in its interagency process to develop and release this concept document. The proposal released today will form the basis on which discussions between the United States and Mexico (with input from Congress and a public comment period) will take place. We strongly encourage all parties involved to buckle up, buckle down and get moving. Every day that passes means unnecessary barriers to American exports remain in place.

Department of Transportation release, “U.S. Cross-Border Trucking Effort Emphasizes Safety and Efficiency

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