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 On The Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime bombardment, VOA correspondent finds More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid