Congress should ratify crucial free-trade pacts


San Antonio Express
July 31, 2009

Special interests and free-trade opponents have successfully bogged down two important trade agreements with U.S. allies.

U.S. and Colombian officials inked a comprehensive agreement to eliminate trade barriers in 2006. The Colombian Congress approved it in 2007. But labor unions continue to hold it hostage in Washington.

President George W. Bush and South Korean President Kim Jong-hoon completed an agreement in 2007 that would eliminate 85 percent of each nation’s tariffs.

While no effort has been made to ratify the pact on Capitol Hill, it has received committee approval in South Korea’s National Assembly. No further action has been taken, however, largely over fears Congress will demand renegotiations.

Colombia is the United States’ 27th-largest trade partner. South Korea is its seventh-largest trade partner. Reducing barriers and increasing trade is good for consumers and producers in all three nations.

Texas agricultural exports, especially, would benefit greatly from the elimination of tariffs. Failure to ratify these free-trade agreements is having an immediate impact on the U.S. economy.

Beyond the immediate losses, other nations are sewing up trade deals with Colombia and South Korea in the absence of U.S. action. Those deals will further undermine U.S. exports.

Canada and Colombia have reached a tariff-lowering deal on wheat exports that will effectively price U.S. grain out of the Colombian market.

Meanwhile, the European Union and South Korea are finalizing the terms of their own comprehensive free-trade agreement.

President Obama and his trade representative, Ron Kirk, have been far too hushed about what’s at stake here. They need to be clear with the Democratic leadership of Congress.

The special interests working to kill the free-trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea are killing American jobs. The United States should ratify these agreements and demonstrate its leadership on trade. If it doesn’t, other nations will.

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