President Obama likely will be met with considerable GOP resistance when he presents his jobs plan to a joint session of Congress tonight — especially if it involves spending more money. But one action that he and Republicans should agree on is finalizing trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Ratification of these agreements is long overdue and would boost U.S. jobs and exports — especially of Kansas agriculture products.
The trade agreements have been stalled in Congress for years — Colombia since 2006, Panama and South Korea since 2007. And while lawmakers have fought over concessions to labor unions and other groups, other countries have stepped in to steal our market share.
The European Union has signed trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Peru. Canada reached an agreement with Colombia last month allowing it to export duty-free (U.S. exports pay a 13 percent tariff).
Canada’s deal gives it a major advantage in the fast-growing Colombian market. Nutresa, a Colombian cookie and cracker company that accounts for more than half of the country’s wheat imports, announced recently that it was switching from U.S. to Canadian wheat.
“Until we act on these job-creating deals, U.S. producers and exporters will continue to lose market share to our competitors,” Sen. Pat Roberts,
R-Kan., said Wednesday.
U.S. wheat producers currently have about $650 million in export sales to the three countries. That total, along with sales of other agriculture products, would jump once the trade agreements are ratified and fully implemented.
Total U.S. agricultural exports to Korea would increase by more than $1.9 billion annually, or about 40 percent, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Colombian deal is expected to generate an additional $370 million a year in agriculture exports, while Panama trade likely would increase by about $46 million.
That translates to thousands of new U.S. jobs — including in Kansas.
A Kansas Farm Bureau study determined that the trade agreements likely would lead to more than
$125 million in increased sales of Kansas agricultural goods and more than 1,000 new jobs.
“It would be a win for everybody,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said recently.
The trade deals have been held up of late over a dispute about Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that helps workers and companies negatively affected by trade deals. Republicans allowed TAA funding to lapse earlier this year, and Obama refused to submit the agreements for ratification until they agreed to restore the funding.
GOP leaders finally backed down at the urging of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups — though the House is insisting there be two separate votes, one on the free-trade agreements and the other on TAA.
Obama and GOP lawmakers talk a lot about creating jobs. Ratifying the trade deals would actually do it.
— For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee