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Posted at 9:27 AM ET, 03/ 9/2011

Administration prepares to face grilling on trade

By Howard Schneider

U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk heads to Capitol Hill this morning for what promises to be a testy hearing with lawmakers eager for the administration to move on three pending free trade agreements.

The Obama administration is close to submitting its agreement with Korea for Congressional approval, but Kirk will likely be grilled on what amounts to round two: pending pacts with Colombia and Panama that were negotiated by the George W. Bush administration but never sent to Congress.

Korea was low-hanging fruit compared with Colombia and Panama. In the original Bush deal, Korea would drop substantial tariffs on agricultural and other goods. Comparable U.S. tariffs are already low, and any visit to a Best Buy or auto mall shows how successful Korean companies have been with the American consumer. Subsequent changes negotiated by Kirk sweetened the deal for the United States, giving better access to the Korean market for U.S. automakers -- to the point where both car manufacturers and the United Auto Workers union gave joint support.

Colombia and Panama are a tougher sell politically, as some of President Obama's core constituencies are wary of Colombia's reputation as unfriendly to union organizers and labor rights, and of Panama's status as a tax haven. Both countries says they have made progress on such issues, and Congressional leaders have begun pushing the administration to move.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who called Wednesday's session, recently visited Colombia and has been pressing Kirk to lay out a timetable and reveal any explicit steps the administration expects from Colombia.

A heavy-hitting, bipartisan list of former U.S. trade representatives and experts on Latin America recently urged the administration to move ahead with the agreements -- now stalled for five years -- to open markets and as an acknowledgment of partnerships such as Colombia's help with anti-drug trafficking efforts in Afghanistan.

But as with Korea, the administration has been hesitant. As Kirk noted after winning changes to the Korea deal, delays were necessary to get a better agreement, and he has shown no interest so far in rushing either Colombia or Panama.

By Howard Schneider  | March 9, 2011; 9:27 AM ET
Categories:  Trade  
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The U.S. Congress must rescind the tax & tariff reductions plus "breaks," they voted large companies that are taking American jobs over seas. Also, just mirror the regulations, tariffs & taxes that countries like China, Japan, South Korea and the European Countries are putting on American goods & services.

Posted by: bkarpus | March 9, 2011 10:09 AM | Report abuse

The whole "free" trade agenda needs to be re-evaluated, and scrapped, because Reagan and his successors have leaped into a series of disastrous "free" trade agreements that are now costing the US economy literally hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

Foreign trade is fundamentally risky. In the domestic economy, because all participants in business transactions are in the US, the profits and taxes paid are guaranteed to benefit the US economy. In foreeign trade, business transactions cross borders, and only the exporting side of the transaction generates any economic benefit to the domestic economy. Because business transactions in foreign trade are cross-border transfer payments balance of payments deficits are a pure drain on the domestic economy.

So-called "free" trade with China was the source of the funds some Americans are now frightened to have borrowed from China. We're now borrowing back the money we paid Chinese manufacturers to sell us junk. We'd have been a world better off, if we just hadn't bought the Chinese junk, in the first place.

There is NO SUCH THING as "free trade." What politicians suborned by bribes, er, pardon me, "donations," from the chamber of Commerce refer to as "free trade" comes at a huge cost, borne mostly by the American work force. Not only do the perpetual balance of payments deficits constitute a hemhorrage of economic assets, "free" trade is being used as an excuse to force American workers to compete, on price, with the poorest people in the world, as a means of driving the American work force into permanent poverty.

Maybe the "free trade" advocates need to relearn the definition of "free," and to stop pretending that policies that impose economic disaster on the American people are "free."

"Free trade" has proven, in practice, to be a facade behind which our modern-day robber-barons have dedicated themselves to resurrecting the laissez-faire economic policies of the 19th century, when there was no such thing as a middle class, and the United States was an economic backwater, struggling to find significance on the world stage.

When the vast majority of American citizens lived in abject poverty, and prosperity for the common man was a fairy tale, the United States was not among the wealthy nations of the world. It's hard to understand how any loyal American could possibly want to bring those hard times back to life.

I guess some people just can't stop stealing, even when they know they're killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Like the scorpion who begged for help crossing the stream before murdering the frog at the cost of his own life, they just can't help it; killing is in their nature.

Posted by: lonquest | March 9, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

The article seemed fairly one sided. I recall both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton agreeing with Ross Perot regarding the damage NAFTA ultimately inflicted on USA manufacturers. Listen to their exact words here --

Our President's new Chief of Staff Bill Daley coordinating the bringing China into the WTO for former President Clinton really worked out well for America too. --

Americans are beginning to wake up that our trade negotiators have failed miserably and why Donald Trump is actually being taken seriously as some recent polls now indicate. -

Posted by: TankMan | March 10, 2011 7:49 AM | Report abuse

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