The U.S. Congress passed three trade agreements Wednesday with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, but not without objections and proposed legislation to “promote fair trade” from a U.S. lawmaker from Ohio.
The White House says the trade agreements could boost exports by $13 billion and support thousands of American jobs.
“Tonight’s vote, with bipartisan support, will significantly boost exports that bear the proud label ‘Made in America,’ support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property,” President Barack Obama said in a statement to the media late Wednesday.
“We don’t do much around here that’s bipartisan these days,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who was U.S. trade representative during the George W. Bush administration. “This is an example of where we can come together as Republicans and Democrats realizing that with 14 million Americans out of work, we need to do things to move our economy forward.”
The Senate voted 83-15 and the House 278-151 to approve the South Korea deal, while the Panama agreement cleared the Senate by a vote of 77-22 and the House 300-129.
The Colombia agreement cleared the Senate by a vote of 66-33 and the House 262-167.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who opposes the trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, proposed legislation — the Reciprocal Market Access Act — that he said requires fair, two-way trade and creates opportunities for American workers and companies.
Brown said U.S. Senate members acknowledged Tuesday that the United States is in a “trade war.”
“Last night (Tuesday), we took steps to fight back, by passing the biggest bipartisan jobs bill this session of Congress — my bill to fight back against Chinese currency manipulation,” Brown said Wednesday during a media teleconference.
He cited a newly released report that indicates a $27 billion trade deficit with China in the month of July and the trade deficit with China for the year through July 31 at $160 billion compared to $145 billion through the same time period in 2010.
He also cited reports which indicate the United States has lost 2.8 million jobs to China due to the trade deficit in the last 10 years, with 66 percent being manufacturing jobs and more than 100,000 being jobs lost in Ohio.
“I just ask when will the president, when will Congress learn that NAFTA-style trade agreements won’t lead to net job creation,” Brown said. “Sure there have been jobs created by NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement), but when balanced against the jobs lost, the result has been massive job and trade deficits.
“Our government practices trade according a text book that is 20 years out of print and that is why I am calling on President Obama to change course on trade policy and asking him to put American workers first and American manufacturers first,” Brown said. “This Administration should apply benchmarks for the implementation of the trade deals — and beyond that, we must reorient our trade policy so that before we rush into these agreements, we take steps that will ensure that future trade agreements live up to the promises.”
He said trade talks among members of Congress often denigrate into barbs and talking points — often pushing members into two camps of those for and those against free trade agreements.
While Brown favors trade with other countries, he said he has a problem with rules that govern U.S. trade policy that favor large corporate or investor interest above worker interest and small manufacturer interests.
The senator wants an escape clause in the trade agreement if the jobs promised to be created by the deal do not materialize then Congress can void the pact. He also said he wants trade laws to be enforced and currency manipulation to be dealt with quickly.
Brown’s bill instructs trade negotiators to eliminate foreign market barriers before reducing U.S. tariffs, and the legislation is designed to ensure that American trade negotiations “achieve real and meaningful market access for American producers.”
Two Ohio small business executives supported Brown’s efforts to try and negotiate more fair trade agreements.
Marlin Perkins, vice president of sales for Globe Metallurgical, Inc., based in Beverly, and Mike Keel, president of McWane Global, whose subsidiary, Clow Water Systems, based in Coshocton, discussed the need for trade policies that benefit Ohio manufacturers and that will help them remain competitive in markets abroad.
“Clow is proud to export products we produce at our Coshocton facility,” Keel said. “In a number of countries, we face not only tariffs, but barriers behind those tariffs that limit our sales. We face similar problems elsewhere around the globe. That has a clear and direct impact on production and job creation in Ohio, and across the country.
“America plays by the rules, while other nations often do not,” he said. “We need to have a trade policy that is realistic and that measures results in terms of production, profits and, most important, job creation. Senator Brown’s bill will help us in that effort.”