OPINION: Pressing Congress for the US-Korea trade pact

Last December, the United States reached an agreement on a landmark trade deal with South Korea that could boost the export of annual U.S. goods there by $11 billion and support at least 70,000 American jobs

The U.S.-Korea trade pact is a good deal for American businesses and for American workers and farmers, which is why it’s supported by organizations across the political spectrum — from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the United Auto Workers.

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But the deal still needs to pass Congress, and this week I’m leading members on a fact-finding mission to South Korea that will demonstrate firsthand how the deal will lead directly to more sales of American goods and services abroad, and more American jobs here at home.

As soon as the South Korea deal comes into effect, tariffs and other measures that restrict American companies’ and farmers’ access to that market will begin to fall.

America’s economic output is estimated to grow more from the U.S.-Korea agreement than from our last nine trade agreements combined. U.S. businesses and farmers will be selling more auto parts, crops and countless other goods to the 12th largest economy in the world — and that can add critical fuel to our nascent economic recovery.

Under the U.S.-Korea trade pact:

Two out of every three dollars in U.S. agricultural export sales to South Korea will become duty free immediately;

More than 95 percent of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products with South Korea would become duty free within five years, and most remaining tariffs would be eliminated within 10 years; and

South Korea’s $580 billion services market would be opened to American companies, supporting jobs for American workers in sectors ranging from delivery and telecommunications services to education and healthcare services.

The deal also ensures that South Korea’s market is more open to American automobiles, even as the agreement adheres to strong labor and environmental standards and protections.

I know that some would’ve liked to see this deal done faster, but the Obama administration was intent on getting the best deal we could for American businesses and workers.

We’ve got a great hand to play — the U.S. is the largest consumer market in the entire world, and when we give trading partners open access to our market, we have every right to insist that they allow our companies the same access to their markets.

But in the past, we too often left this trump card in the deck, opening up our market without getting nearly enough value for American companies and workers in return. No wonder, then, that in many recent polls, more Americans say they see foreign trade as a threat rather than as an opportunity.

To turn that sentiment around, the Obama administration is pursuing trade in a way that allows more Americans to benefit. We’re focusing more on enforcement and holding our trading partners accountable for their commitments. Overall, we’re being discerning about what constitutes a worthwhile trade deal for America.

The U.S.-Korea agreement meets that standard, with more support for American businesses and stronger worker rights. We need to pass it through Congress as soon as possible.

The longer the United States delays, the more market share we will lose to our foreign competitors. In the last few years, Japan, China and Europe have been increasing their trade with Korea, which is why in just over a decade, America’s share of South Korea’s import market for goods has fallen from 21 percent to just 9 percent.

The administration feels similar urgency to get the pending Panama and Colombia trade deals done, and we are making substantial progress. In fact, the U.S. Trade Representative has notified Congress that it is ready to begin discussions about the draft-implementing bill for the Panama agreement. And the administration has recently announced an action plan of steps that, once taken by Colombia, will allow that agreement to advance as well.

Passing the South Korea deal, along with other pending agreements, will move us even closer to President Obama’s National Export Initiative goal of doubling American exports by 2015.

And that’s a goal everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike — can get behind.

The fact is that the more American companies can export, the more they produce. The more they produce, the more workers they need. That means well-paying jobs here at home. And that’s exactly what Americans need right now.

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