Obama and GOP Agree: Free-Trade Agreements Will Boost U.S. Economy
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The United States can look forward to thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars added to its economy in the coming years thanks to free-trade agreements signed by President Barack Obama Friday, the White House and an influential Republican congressman said.
Obama signed agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. He also signed a measure that extends the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which provides benefits for American workers who lose their jobs due to international trade agreements, until the end of 2013. Continued funding for the assistance program was one of the factors holding up the agreements' approval.
Congress approved the agreements earlier in the month. The measure with Panama passed 300-129 in the House and 77-22 in the Senate. The measure with South Korea passed 278-151 in the House and 83-15 in the Senate. The deal with Colombia garnered the most opposition, but still passed 262-167 in the House and 66-33 in the Senate.
The White House sent out U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas who was an advocate of free-trade agreements in the 1990s, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, to defend the agreements.
“These trade agreements will help put Americans back to work and grow America’s economy,” Kirk said in a statement. “At the same time, the president signed legislation renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance that helps workers who have been hurt by increased global competition.
“The Korea agreement will support an estimated 70,000 U.S. jobs and increase U.S. GDP by at least $11 billion due to increased exports of goods alone,” Kirk added. “Chances are, you’ll benefit from these agreements if you work for or with anyone who makes, grows, or provides goods and services to Korea, Colombia, or Panama. These agreements make it easier and more cost-effective to sell made-in-the-U.S.A. products to consumers in each of these countries. In turn, increased exports of U.S. goods and services will support more and better jobs for farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, service providers, workers, and businesses all across the United States. And all three agreements have groundbreaking protections for labor rights, the environment, and intellectual property, so American workers and businesses will be able to compete on a level playing field.”
With the trade agreements having been bottled up in Washington for the better part of three years, Kirk defended the amount of time it took to sign them into law.
“The president worked to improve these agreements when he came into office,” Kirk said. “All three faced significant opposition from Congress. But instead of surrendering to the status quo, the president told me to get to work. With Korea, he sent me back to the negotiating table to secure additional market access for U.S. automobile manufacturers. With Colombia, he stood firm on the principle that U.S. trade agreements must reflect American values, including respect for and protection of workers’ rights. And with Panama, he made sure that we addressed key concerns related to tax transparency and labor conditions. In each case, the president held out for a better, more balanced deal.”
Kirk added that the results spoke for themselves, noting that the agreement with South Korea garnered more votes in Congress than any previous free-trade deal in the nation’s history.
From his perch as the chairman of the Panama Caucus, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said Friday the agreements would help Florida, pointing to a study from the U.S. International Trade Commission that found they would increase American exports by $13 billion, add $10 billion to the GDP and lead to up to 250,000 new jobs.
“The signing of these long-stalled trade deals is a major win for Florida,” said Buchanan, who, as a member of the Subcommittee on Trade under the umbrella of the full House Ways and Means Committee, helped lead the fight for the trade agreements. “Creating jobs and growing the economy are the most important issues facing us today. More than 80 percent of U.S. exporters to South Korea, Colombia, and Panama are small and medium-sized enterprises. We have the opportunity to generate thousands of jobs right here in our backyard.”
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