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 Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory 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.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid