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Opinion

Congress finally gets it: Free trade is good for America

Despite negative public opinion about open trade, Congress is poised to approve delayed free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia. The deals will help the US economy by increasing exports and supporting and creating tens of thousands of jobs.

By Bill Reinsch / October 12, 2011



Washington

Finally, after more than four years of debate and acrimony, Congress is expected to pass the free trade agreements the United States negotiated with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. All three will go a long way in helping to give a much-needed boost to the economy by increasing US exports and supporting and creating tens of thousands of American jobs.

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For those of us who speak for hundreds of US companies with thousands of workers and worldwide operations, these free trade agreements (or FTAs) are urgently needed. Despite a popular view that open trade kills American jobs, the particulars of these agreements show their benefits.

In the case of Colombia, the FTA will provide duty-free access for more than 75 percent of US agricultural goods and more than 80 percent of US consumer products – helping to increase two-way trade, which reached more than $28 billion last year. The FTA – which is expected to help the American economy grow by $2.5 billion and US exports by $1.1 billion – allows us to seal a mutually beneficial deal with the third largest economy in South America and one of our longest standing democratic allies in the region.

Panama offers a key strategic location for US exporters to sell their goods and also to move them throughout the hemisphere via the Panama Canal. With canal expansion slated for completion in 2014, US companies in the machinery, infrastructure, and services sectors are anxious to see the FTA carried out to boost sales, exports, and employment opportunities for American workers. The agreement will also pave the way for more trade between the two nations, which reached $6.1 billion in 2010.

Finally, the South Korea agreement represents the most economically significant trade deal that the US has embarked on since the North American Free Trade Agreement. All told, the South Korea FTA is expected to increase US exports by $11 billion, spur economic growth by nearly $12 billion, and support at least 70,000 American jobs.

At a time when the world economy has been stagnant, South Korea’s economic growth exceeded 6 percent last year, making it the world’s 15th largest economy. Opposition to the deal from domestic automakers and beef producers has been handled in agreements reached by the US and South Korean governments, and the South Korea FTA now enjoys widespread support – from the United Auto Workers and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to big business.

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