By Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) - 03/18/10 09:41 PM EDT
But we need more than just talk; we need action and sustained leadership on an issue that for far too long has been slowed by divisive partisan politics in Washington. The fact is that the more we bicker and dawdle here at home, the more our nation and our people lose ground internationally.
We need to look no further than the three long-stalled trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama that our government finished negotiating over three years ago, but Congress has failed to consider. With every passing day, U.S. farmers lose more and more of their share of agricultural exports into Colombia to MERCOSUR countries, a trading bloc of South American nations. MERCOSUR has duty-free access for many farm exports, making them cheaper than U.S. products.
But it doesn’t end there. Canada’s currently negotiating a bilateral agreement with Colombia, giving Canadian companies greater access to Colombian markets. And when an agreement between the European Union and South Korea goes into effect later this year, our companies will lose major opportunities as our European allies gain preferential treatment.
By standing still, American workers and companies are the ones losing out. An economic analysis by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that enacting the Korean trade agreement would save the United States 300,000 jobs. And a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce concluded that our failure to act on the South Korea and Colombia trade agreements, along with dangerous protectionist measures included in the stimulus bill, are estimated to have cost the United States 585,800 jobs. Those are eye-opening numbers that show the urgency of Congress taking up these three agreements.
But we can’t stop there. We need to open new markets through new trade and investment agreements. This would help American investors, who act as a magnet for U.S. exports, to make sure we are at least on equal footing in Chinese and Indian markets as our German and British competitors. The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, for example, are an unparalleled opportunity to establish a competitive U.S. presence in the strategic and growing Asia-Pacific corridor.
Sadly, the debate on trade has taken a dangerous turn. When the previous administration sent the Colombia trade agreement to Congress two years ago, the Speaker of the House failed to act, citing labor union concerns. To be clear, labor unions deserve a voice in these discussions, but our political leadership has to make decisions based on what’s best for our nation, not just what’s best for our unions. After all, it is our businesses that employ American workers, and the more opportunities they have to sell their products the more likely they are to start hiring.
Trade will not solve all our problems. But it is a critical step that will help lay the foundation for America’s competitiveness in the international economy. Most importantly, engaging in a real, sustained trade agenda will help provide jobs and much-needed wages to struggling middle-class families, and put our nation back on a path to prosperity.
Hatch is a member of the Senate Finance Committee.