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Pro: Should Congress approve pending trade pacts with Colombia, Korea and Panama?

Giving US business a level playing field will jump-start the economy

Posted: May 12, 2011 - 7:01pm

It’s rare in the nation’s capital these days that a policy idea wins support from both sides of the aisle. But last month, a development won bipartisan applause from leading Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate.

The occasion? The White House has clinched an agreement with Colombia on reforms that will open the door for congressional approval of the long-pending U.S.-Colombia trade agreement. This means that all three pending trade agreements — including the equally vital agreements with Korea and Panama — should be approved by Congress in the weeks ahead.

The case for approval of the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement begins with American jobs. This accord represents a budget-neutral, job-creating stimulus for American workers and farmers — and businesses both large and small — all across the nation.

This is a new kind of trade agreement that guarantees fairness and accountability. U.S. tariffs on Colombian manufactured goods averaged just 0.1 percent last year, but Colombian tariffs on U.S. manufactured goods average 15 percent — and even higher for U.S. agricultural products. A similar lopsidedness holds back our trade with South Korea and Panama as well.

Upon implementation, the agreement with Colombia will immediately eliminate most of those tariffs, removing nearly all of them within three years. At a time when millions of Americans are out of work, it will create real business opportunities and a level playing field for American exporters. The agreement will also open Colombia’s dynamic service markets and protect the intellectual property of American innovators and creative artists.

For America’s small and medium-size businesses, these trade agreements are critical. Nearly 30,000 U.S. small and mid-size companies export to Colombia, South Korea and Panama, and they account for one-third of U.S. exports to these countries. Approval of the pending trade agreements will permit these firms to boost their sales and allow many more companies to tap these growing markets.

As President Barack Obama has said, “If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.” Indeed, other nations are racing to implement their own trade deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, threatening to put American workers at a competitive disadvantage.

In particular, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and the European Union-Korea Free Trade Agreement will enter into force by July 1. Largely as a result of Colombia’s earlier trade accord with Mercosur — South America’s common market pact — U.S. farmers have already seen their share of Colombia’s agriculture market fall to about one-quarter today from about three-quarters just two years ago.

While approval of the trade agreements can turn this around, the cost of further delay is set to escalate. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce study has warned that the United States will lose more than 380,000 jobs and $40 billion in export sales if the pending agreements suffer further delays.

Like South Korea and Panama, Colombia is among our most important allies in the world. This is a robust democracy whose citizens share our values and have long stood by us in strategic parts of the world.

Colombia geads the U.N. committee implementing sanctions against Iran and Sudan and has partnered with the United States to provide counter-narcotics training and assistance to governments from Afghanistan to Haiti.

Boosting our trade ties to these nations also strengthens these alliances. It advances the U.S. national interest in ways that will pay dividends beyond the creation of jobs.

Obama’s agreement with Colombia proves the United States can still lead on trade. To create American jobs and level the playing field for trade, the moment has arrived for approval of the three pending trade accords and renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program for displaced workers. There’s no time to waste.

• Donohue is the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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