On his recent Midwest bus tour last week, President Barack Obama bashed obstructionists in Congress for blocking passage of free-trade accords with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. If only these opponents would get out of the way, he suggested, these agreements would be law, American exports would rise and more jobs would be created.
But Obama left something out.
The agreements can’t be passed until the administration submits them to Congress and it has not yet done this, although a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative said the administration “has been eager” to do that.
It’s nice to hear they’re so eager, although the sentiment would be more convincing if the agreements were actually submitted.
The real problem is squabbling over the level of aid under a program for workers displaced by foreign competition. Democrats seek to keep spending at elevated levels, while Republicans want to scale back to earlier levels.
Surely this issue could be handled separately while Congress moves on the three trade deals, which were all signed before Obama came into office.
While they’ve been on the shelf, the world has moved on.
Colombia’s ambassador to the United States, Gabriel Silva Lujan, notes that U.S. farmers once claimed 46 percent of Colombia’s food import market. Now the proportion is 20 percent — and likely to go lower. A free trade pact between Colombia and Canada, another big wheat exporter, went into effect last week.
Colombia is the sixth-largest market for Caterpillar, another big U.S. exporter. But Caterpillar’s products, too, may be at a disadvantage in Colombia’s growing mining sector, as Colombians seek alternatives free of the tariff-based mark-ups applied to U.S. products.
All of this makes little sense when you consider that U.S. tariffs on Colombian goods are already minimal, while their tariffs on our goods remain quite stiff. The agreement would lower that barrier.
As Obama himself once said, “If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores. We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are.”
Well said, Mr. President. Now please submit the agreements.
The Kansas City Star (Aug. 25)