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USTR

World Not Waiting for U.S. on Trade Agreements

By | America's Business, Economy, Trade | No Comments

It is no secret other countries are racing ahead with trade agreements while the U.S. stands idly by. There are 120 free trade agreements being negotiated around the world, and the U.S. is a party to just one.

As for pending trade pacts, the U.S. free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea have languished for four years.  (But see this post from Monday for a dose of optimism.)

Those countries aren’t waiting for the U.S.  The Wall Street Journal reports today that Colombia is seeking to increase its trade ties with China.

Colombian lawmakers passed legislation they hope will open the floodgates of trade with China, where the government plans two high-level trade missions over the next three months, as a long-delayed U.S. trade deal with the South American nation stalls in Congress.

Colombia Trade Minister Sergio Díaz-Granados said Tuesday’s passage of the “Chinese Trade Promotion and Protection” bill—which affords China certain legal guarantees on its investments in Colombia—could also propel talks with China to build a railway that would link Colombia’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts, and would serve as an alternative to the Panama Canal.

Trade officials in Bogotá expressed frustration with the slow pace of progress in Washington, which they say contrasts with Chinese eagerness to invest in Colombia, Washington’s closest ally in South America.

In an interview, Mr. Díaz-Granados said he remained hopeful a free-trade pact with the U.S. would be passed before year’s end, but that Colombia can no longer “sit with its arms crossed, waiting.”

“We’ve been talking about a U.S.-Colombia free trade deal for 20 years, and it’s certainly the trade deal we want more than any other,” Mr. Díaz-Granados said. “But in the meantime, we have to continue working in other directions. Our business leaders need to pursue other markets and diversify.”

The U.S. has been waiting for too long.  Every day that lawmakers sit on the trade agreements is a day the country is missing out on opportunities for growth and jobs.

Senate Holds Panama FTA Hearing

By | America's Business, Economy, General, Small Business, Trade | No Comments

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement this morning.  Watch the hearing here.

The Committee heard testimony from NAM member Jason Speer, vice president and general manager of Quality Float Works.  Jason had just returned from Panama, so he was able to offer a particularly informed perspective about what the trade agreement would mean for manufacturers.

Jason also spoke with the NAM while he was in Washington:

Timmons on Free Trade in the Daily Caller

By | America's Business, Economy, Trade | No Comments

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.

Governors Push for FTA Approval

By | America's Business, Around the States, Economy, Trade | No Comments

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.

Recognizing the Doha Round is Broken

By | Trade | No Comments

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.  

Tackling Trade Barriers

By | Trade | 2 Comments

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.

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

By | Trade | No Comments

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.”

Senators Tell Administration: Move All Three Trade Agreements

By | Trade | No Comments

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. Read More

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

By | intellectual property, Trade | No Comments

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.

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

By | Trade | No Comments

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.