American Shipper

Don?t let Capitol Hill strangle free trade

DonÆt let Capitol Hill strangle free trade

   When a free trade agreement is right for American shippers, like the one recently concluded between the United States and South Korea, then our elected officials on Capitol Hill must make every effort to expeditiously ratify it.

   However, as so often goes in Washington, there will be a group of isolationist politicians ' both Republican and Democrat ' who will do their best to stymie the ratification process, further demonstrating their inherent ignorance in the value of free trade to U.S. industries now and in the long term.

   Simply put, free trade agreements are about ending tariff and non-tariff barriers between two countries' imports and exports. Why should protectionist barriers prevent high quality U.S. products from reaching overseas consumers?

   Some lawmakers, as well as labor unions, would argue that these trade deals result in domestic job losses, or don't do enough to hold trading partners accountable on human rights, labor and environmental standards. While these impacts are arguable, the result of doing nothing to achieve free trade with our closest economic and political allies may spell lost jobs anyway, as U.S. companies' products fail to be competitive in these overseas markets.

   One of the most important U.S. industries ' agriculture ' has already reaped the benefits from existing free trade agreements between the United States and other countries, such as Mexico, Canada, Chile, Australia, Peru, Morocco and the Central American region.

   According to a recent study by a group of U.S. agricultural industry analysts (the 2010 Analysis of the Effects of Trade Agreements on U.S. Agricultural Exports and U.S. Market Development Programs), the North American Free Trade Agreement, from 1994 to 2008, resulted in a boost in U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada of more than 300 percent or more than $12 billion.

   The U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement is expected to increase annual exports of numerous U.S.-made products by as much as $11 billion and support at least 70,000 domestic jobs. It also opens Korea's $560 billion services market in areas such as finance, energy and distribution.

   However, the United States has a long ways to go before it can truly enjoy the benefits of free trade. In fact, Congress has allowed two successfully negotiated Bush administration agreements with Colombia and Panama to languish, and has failed to grant Trade Promotional Authority to the Obama administration. It's also estimated there are more than 125 free trade agreements under negotiation or in the planning stages between countries and regions that do not include the United States.

   With a deeply divided Congress now seated on Capitol Hill, it's now more important than ever for large companies and trade associations to demand lawmakers to take action on facilitating free trade. Remind them that exports have been one of the strongest components of the economy helping to lead us out of the recession. With the economy still weak, just think of how many more quality jobs could be created to help bring down unemployment. This is something that any congressman should understand.