Don’t trade away new jobs

One such topic sure to be addressed is trade and U.S. exports. President Obama has done a fine job of extolling the virtues of trade and setting impressive export goals, but his administration hasn’t carried out the charge or met the challenge. Thousands of tonight’s onlookers can attribute their unemployment to three signed trade agreements — with South Korea, Colombia and Panama — that could be supporting new jobs, but are instead gathering dust on the shelves of the White House. I want the president to know I stand ready to help fire up our economic engine by implementing the pending agreements. That’s why I’m introducing a resolution today to assert the Senate’s endorsement of these trade agreements that are expected to support tens of thousands of new jobs.

It’s been a year since the president announced his goal of doubling American exports in the next five — now four — years. Yet the value of words will continue to decrease as real money and real jobs flow to other countries. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), our trade agreements with South Korea and Colombia would boost U.S. exports to these countries by as much as a combined $12 billion annually. This is especially noteworthy for our annual exports to Colombia, which, after enjoying a booming increase of more than 315 percent from 2002 to 2008, are now slowing, despite the fact that Colombia’s imports are growing. The Colombia agreement would not only stem this decline, but reverse it: USITC estimates the agreement would directly lead to a 10 percent annual increase in exports to Colombia. Similarly, the South Korea agreement would increase U.S. agriculture exports to Korea alone by $1.8 billion.

The decline in U.S. exports to countries like Colombia should come as no surprise. Colombia, South Korea and Panama have been busy eliminating tariffs and barriers with other countries ever since our own agreements with them were signed in 2006 and 2007 but subsequently shelved. Other countries are tearing down their trade barriers while we voluntarily leave ours up, losing critical market access. That amounts to dollars and jobs being lost here at home.

Our aim should be leveling the playing field for our workers and exporters — South Korea, Colombia and Panama all send their products to the U.S. largely free of tariffs. Ninety-six percent of Panamanian products enter the U.S. duty-free, as do 90 percent of those from Colombia. The pending agreements would remove tariffs on U.S. exports and give Americans the opportunity to compete. USITC estimates that under the agreements, 80 percent of U.S. exports would enter Colombia duty-free. In Panama, 60 percent of U.S. agriculture exports and 88 percent of commercial and industrial exports would enjoy similar treatment. Lowering tariffs would in turn increase competitiveness for American producers and thus their ability to export more products to those countries. With every eliminated tariff line we get closer to the president’s export goal.

Perhaps the most compelling reason for quick ratification of these agreements is bringing work to the jobless across the country. While the most recent unemployment numbers highlight the desperate need for new jobs, USITC projects the agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama could lead directly to 27,000 jobs at home. On top of lowering tariffs and increasing exports, a simple nod from the Senate would also contribute to lowering our country’s unemployment rate.

Take this all into consideration when the president speaks tonight. He sounded ambitious last January, and insisted in July that he’s eager to send them to Congress “as soon as possible.” Mr. President, we are waiting — with anticipation. Americans have a lot to gain from these agreements, and much to lose without them. I invite my colleagues in the Senate to send a strong signal to Americans looking for work by signing on to my trade resolution that says ‘yes’ to the pending trade agreements and to new jobs. The time for leadership is now.

Sen. Johanns is a Republican from Nebraska.