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21/05/2011 | US: A Free-Trade Fast One

Three days after Congress was told that stalled free-trade pacts were headed to a vote soon, the White House demanded new concessions before that would happen. How many times must the goal posts be moved?


Nearly five years have passed since free-trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama have awaited just a vote in Congress.

Some $10 billion in exports for American companies is awaiting, while about 380,000 American jobs stand to be lost if the pacts don’t go through. Canada enacts its pact with Colombia on July 1, meaning the U.S. will lose a big chunk of its Colombian market to Canada soon.

The Obama administration seemed to get this in the past few months, with many officials confirming the pacts would go forward by midyear.

But with the finish line in sight, there are new obstacles. The latest came from the White House early Monday warning Congress to either approve an expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, or the stalled trade pacts will be kept on hold.

Last February, Congress scrapped the $2.4 billion TAA program for 2011-2014 for good reason: A 2008 American University study found it of “dubious value.”

Worse still, consultants such as Karen Tramontano of Dutko International found that TAA encourages workers to blame all job losses, regardless of cause, on trade.

Only Big Labor likes this program, in part because it hands idled workers 156 weeks of “income support” on top of 99 weeks of unemployment, creating a five-year free ride instead of job creation.

“The administration will not submit implementing legislation on the three pending free-trade agreements until we have a deal with Congress on the renewal of a robust, expanded TAA program consistent with the objectives of the 2009 trade adjustment assistance law,” said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, in a conference call with reporters.

The contradictions in this announcement could give you whiplash. Three days ago, U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk in testimony before Congress described free trade as a job-creating machine.

“Continued growth in agricultural exports depends on accessing new markets for America’s farmers and ranchers and ensuring their continued access to existing markets,” he told the House Agriculture Committee.

Now, suddenly, it’s a job killer.

“The president has always been unequivocal … that keeping faith with our workers is just as important for us as an administration as opening new markets and enforcing trade agreements,” Kirk said Monday.

In reality, what’s happening here is the same old Big Labor political game of holding the White House by its puppet strings ahead of elections to extract more concessions, without giving anything in return.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President John Murphy wrote that Obama’s labor union supporters have been doing this with free trade since at least 2006 — from the early days of the pact’s negotiations, to the add-ons demanded in 2007, to the present day.

“Repeatedly, political leaders in both parties who want to open foreign markets to U.S. workers have reached out to labor to seek a compromise to move agreements forward … each time, labor pockets the concessions and then opposes the deals anyway.”

It happened a year ago, when Panama made concessions on tax policy to please Big Labor, and it has just happened in the wake of President Obama’s meeting with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, who accepted an Obama-dictated “action plan.” With these latest demands, the goal posts have moved again.

But the reality of this sorry picture is that as the White House plays games, it’s the U.S. economy that suffers.

“The administration’s announcement that they will tie our three pending trade agreements to unrelated spending is hugely disappointing to American workers, farmers and job creators, who are losing out to foreign competitors with every passing day,” said Senate Finance Committee’s top Republican, Orrin Hatch.

“It makes no sense to shut the door on increasing U.S. exports by over $10 billion in order to fund a costly program,” said Hatch. “With our economy struggling and our nation broke, it’s time to stop the excuses and give our exporters fair access to international markets.”

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Hacer - Washington DC (Estados Unidos)


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