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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid