Over the past few weeks, President Barack Obama has challenged Congress to come together to approve trade agreements, renew strengthened Trade Adjustment Assistance and pass the American Jobs Act — legislation that would put more people back to work and put more money in the pockets of working Americans.
Based on ideas that both Democrats and Republicans have supported in the past, the American Jobs Act would cut taxes to help America’s small businesses hire and grow. It would cut in half the payroll tax that comes out of every worker’s paycheck — saving families an average of $1,500 a year.
It includes investments that would send thousands of construction workers back to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges and schools, put an estimated 280,000 laid-off teachers back in the classroom so they can help our children develop 21st-century skills and keep police and firefighters on the job protecting our communities. And it wouldn’t add a dime to the federal deficit.
Similarly, the trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, along with strengthened Trade Adjustment Assistance, would help create and preserve U.S. jobs. All of these measures are critical elements of the Obama administration’s balanced approach to trade that grows American exports abroad and supports American jobs here at home.
Together, these agreements are estimated to increase U.S. gross domestic product by $12 billion and support tens of thousands of additional American jobs. In fact, as it’s estimated that every $1 billion we export supports more than 5,000 jobs at home, the South Korea trade agreement would support at least 70,000 U.S. jobs through increased exports. South Korean customers bought an annual average of $34 billion of U.S. goods from 2008 to 2010.
The U.S.-South Korea trade agreement has the potential to grow that total — and support more U.S. jobs — as it would open South Korea’s $580 billion services market and eliminate exorbitant average tariffs of 54 percent on agricultural goods and 6.2 percent on nonagricultural goods.
Under the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement, elimination of tariffs on U.S. goods exported to Colombia is estimated to increase total U.S. goods exports to Colombia by more than $1.1 billion. And the majority of U.S. agricultural, consumer and industrial products would gain immediate duty-free access to Panama under the U.S.-Panama trade agreement as well.
Because 97.6 percent of American exporters are small- and medium-sized businesses, each agreement includes strong transparency obligations, provisions that would remove technical barriers, and customs and trade facilitation. The agreements also have strong enforcement mechanisms to hold our trading partners accountable on key issues like labor and the environment. Each contains state-of-the-art provisions to protect intellectual property rights, reduce regulatory red tape and promote science-based standards for agriculture, speeding U.S. exports into these markets.
As we open new markets, the Obama administration is keeping faith with American workers facing increased global competition. The Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation moving through Congress reflects many improvements we made to TAA in 2009: It would help displaced workers in America’s services sector as well as in manufacturing with job retraining, lower health insurance premiums and assistance that keeps families on their feet.
The administration’s commitment to TAA reflects our fundamental belief that a balanced approach is necessary to ensure long-term consensus on job-creating trade. That’s why, since Day One, Obama insisted that we address outstanding concerns related to each of these agreements.
With South Korea, we successfully negotiated additional market access for American automobiles. With Colombia, we developed a robust Action Plan Related to Labor Rights that would hold the Colombian government accountable to uphold and protect the rights of workers. And with Panama, we reached agreement on greater tax transparency and on ways to strengthen labor protections in that country. Having secured these critical improvements to preserve balance and fairness, we are eager to move forward with all three trade agreements and strengthened TAA.
But to be truly successful, trade agreements also require rigorous enforcement. That’s why we’ve stepped up efforts to ensure that our trading partners play by the rules. For the first time, Obama took action to safeguard U.S. workers against a surge of cheap Chinese imported tires. We won a level playing field for U.S. aerospace manufacturers with the largest commercial victory in the history of the World Trade Organization. And after reviewing a petition filed by both U.S. and Guatemalan workers, we brought the first labor case under a U.S. trade agreement.
In addition to these unprecedented actions, we have developed innovative tools to shine a spotlight on barriers blocking American exports. Similarly, we are always working to protect American innovation around the world.
Experts estimate the Asia-Pacific economies will grow faster than the world average through at least 2014. To stay competitive in these rapidly growing markets, the administration is advancing negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership — an ambitious, high-standard, regional trade agreement that addresses the challenges our workers and businesses face in the 21st century. As the United States hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Hawaii this year, we are building toward a seamless regional economy by promoting effective, nondiscriminatory and market-driven innovation policy.
At the WTO, we’re encouraging emerging economic powers like China, India and Brazil to take on responsibilities in the global trading system commensurate with their significant growth. The United States also is supporting Russia’s accession to the WTO by the end of the year. And we are constantly deepening ties with top trading partners such as Canada, Mexico, the European Union and Japan.
This administration is advancing a balanced trade agenda. We know Americans can compete and win anywhere with a level playing field and a fighting chance.
That’s why the president stands ready to work with Congress to approve the pending trade agreements and renew and strengthen TAA and pass the American Jobs Act. Approving these measures would increase the competitiveness of U.S. companies and the well-being of American workers. They would get our economy moving full speed ahead with more jobs for hard-working Americans. Surely, that’s something we can all support.
Ron Kirk is the U.S. trade representative.
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