Mr. President, I’ve been a long-time supporter of free trade. It’s a good thing when American businesses, manufacturers, and farmers have more market access for their products.
I’ve also been a long-time supporter of the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. We have had too many years of talking about being long-time supporters of these trade agreements. We have not had the opportunity to back up the talk with our votes. The time to present these free trade agreements is long overdue. The administration needs to stop moving the goal posts every time we are about to kick the ball through.
Take the Panama Agreement, for example. The United States and Panama reached an agreement in principle in December 2006. However, congressional Democrats expressed concerns regarding certain labor issues that existed in Panama at the time. The Bush administration negotiated a deal with congressional Democrats on May 10, 2007. As a result, the Bush administration addressed the labor issues in the trade agreement that the U.S. signed with Panama in late June 2007. Despite the fact the demands made by congressional Democrats were incorporated in the signed trade deal, congressional Democrats would not allow a vote on the agreement. Instead, they moved the goal post by demanding more changes be made by the Panamanian government.
After President Obama took office, the trade issue was sidelined. Along with others, I made the case that trade agreements needed to be a part of America’s economic recovery effort. I got an opportunity to make the case directly to the President in December 2009. Then, in January of 2010, President Obama said he wanted to double exports within the next five years. Well, it’s pretty hard to double exports, and help employers create jobs, while ignoring these trade agreements. Supporters of free trade and the jobs supported by trade – jobs that, on average, pay 15 percent more than the national average – kept the pressure on.
Finally, after many months of waiting, the United States Trade Ambassador went back to work to get the Panamanian government to agree to meet the additional demands set out by congressional Democrats and the Obama administration. The Ambassador also set out to gain further commitments from South Korea and Colombia. Now, the Panamanian government has addressed the additional demands, by making the necessary amendments to their laws. The additional concerns the administration had with the South Korean and Colombian deals were addressed as well. Earlier this May, Ambassador Kirk indicated that all three trade agreements were ready for Congress to consider.
But the Obama administration decided to move the goal post again. Instead of moving these agreements forward for swift approval, which I believe they will receive, the administration now has another requirement: approval of Trade Adjustment Assistance. While U.S. manufacturers, businesses, and farmers risk losing more and more market share in these countries, Democrats keep coming up with reasons for holding up these trade agreements.
There is simply no reason to keep moving the goal posts. The administration has said these three trade agreements are ready. One of the best things we can do right now for U.S. businesses, farmers, and workers is to implement these trade agreements, which will give a much needed boost to our economy.
I am not suggesting that we do nothing on the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, but reaching an agreement on that program should not be used as yet another excuse for moving the goal posts. All three of the pending trade agreements need to be sent to Congress without further delay.