News / USA

US Congress Approves Three Free Trade Pacts

Michael Bowman

The U.S. Congress has approved free trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama - the first such accords passed during Barack Obama’s presidency. Backers say the trade deals will boost U.S. exports by $13 billion a year, while opponents say they will undercut U.S. workers and undermine America’s ability to press for international human rights.

During a full day of debate in both houses of Congress, there was one word on legislators’ minds: jobs.

One day after the Senate rejected President Obama’s jobs bill, backers of free trade portrayed the three pacts as a means to boost America’s stalling economy and stimulate job creation through expanded international commerce. Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana said, “They will boost our gross domestic product by more than $15 billion, and they will support tens of thousands of urgently-needed American jobs. They will help the jobs picture. Clearly not solve it, but help.”

That view was echoed by Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. “This is a no-brainer. Export more, make our products more competitive by lowering the tariffs, and create jobs in America," she said. "What could be more clear?"

Negotiated under former-President George W. Bush, the accords had been shelved by the Obama administration until Congress extended assistance programs for U.S. workers affected by foreign competition. Additionally, Mr. Obama pressed South Korea to open its market to U.S. vehicles, urged Panama to strengthen financial regulations, and sought assurances that Colombia will protect labor leaders and union members, scores of whom have been murdered in recent years.

Delays in approving the accords frustrated Republicans like Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who complained that America’s competitors were gaining global market share as a result of U.S. trade inaction. Grassley’s impatience was still evident as Congress prepared to vote. “Well, can you believe it? We are finally here," he said.

In a rare show of legislative bipartisanship, the free trade pacts got near-unanimous Republican backing and enough Democratic support to assure easy passage in both houses. Opposing Democrats portrayed the accords as an extension of a free trade agenda that has brought a sharp decline in U.S. manufacturing and sent high-wage American jobs overseas.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont: “One of the major reasons why the middle class in America is disappearing, poverty is increasing, and the gap between the very wealthy and everybody else is growing wider is directly related to our disastrous free trade policy. Over the last decade, more than 50,000 manufacturing plants in this country have shut down," he said. "Over 5.5 million factory jobs have disappeared. I do not understand why, when you have a policy that has failed and failed and failed, why you want to continue that policy?”

Several other Democrats representing heavily-industrialized states also opposed the pacts, arguing that previous accords - such as the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico - failed to yield promised economic benefits and hastened American job losses.

But other legislators argued that the United States already allows most foreign goods to enter the country with minimal tariffs, and that trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama will even the playing field for U.S. exports. Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware.

“We allow these countries to sell their goods and services in our country without impediment. We do not impose, for the most part, tariff barriers or non-tariff barriers. When we want to sell our stuff there, they impose these barriers. Under a free trade agreement, the barriers that others put up to keep our goods and services out pretty much go away. We will do better [economically]," he said.

Many U.S. labor groups and human rights organizations opposed some or all of the three trade pacts. U.S. business groups enthusiastically backed the accords. Colombia's embassy in Washington hailed what it called the start of "a new era" of bilateral relations.

In a statement, President Obama described congressional passage of the trade deals as "a major win for American workers and businesses".

You May Like

Video Video Claims to Show Shi'ite Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

While not yet independently confirmed, brutal killing already has gotten attention of Islamic State followers on social media More

After Six Years, Little Change for Niger Delta's Former Militants

Nigerians who laid down arms in exchange for government amnesty subsidies fear program may end with upcoming presidential elections More

Vietnam Pushes for More Educated Drivers to Curb Road Deaths

Transportation officials hope that making a greater effort to get drivers to learn the rules of the road will reduce fatal crashes More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planeti
X
George Putic
March 04, 2015 8:51 PM
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960's Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7th to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960’s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More