- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

As several free-trade pacts negotiated under President George W. Bush continue to collect dust, other countries are moving ahead with their own trade deals, a scenario many say puts U.S. industries at a competitive disadvantage and risks American jobs.

Colombia and Canada began a major trade pact this week that allows Canada to export wheat, among other items, tariff-free. The deal took effect almost five years after the Bush administration signed its own free trade agreement with the South American country.

But the U.S. deal with Colombia, as well as similar trade pacts the Bush administration inked with Panama and South Korea in 2007, have yet to be ratified by Congress — stalled first by Democratic opposition regarding labor issues, and later as President Obama reworked the deals.

“Today’s entry into force of the trade agreement between Canada and Colombia means that — for no good reason — U.S. workers and exporters are now disadvantaged in Colombia, a key export market for American-made goods and services,” Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and House Ways and Means Chairman, said Monday, the day pact was took effect.

Colombia, South Korea and Panama, meanwhile, have implemented numerous trade agreements with countries other than the U.S., including a significant deal between South Korea and the European Union that went into effect July 1.

The EU also signed a trade agreement last year with Colombia and Peru.

China — one of the U.S. most vital trading partners — has sought trade inroads with Latin America as well, signing a free trade deal with Peru in 2009 and implementing another with Costa Rica this month.

Business leaders also have complained the United States is losing crucial market share to China, Canada and others without the Colombia, South Korea and Panama deals.

A 2009 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warned the delay of the three pending trade deals has put at least 380,000 American jobs at risk.

Failure to implement the U.S. free-trade agreements, while other trading partners go forward with theirs, also would lead to a decline of $40.2 billion in U.S. exports of goods and services, the report said.

“These trade agreements are one of the best ways to create jobs in America now,” chamber President and Chief Executive Thomas J. Donohue said earlier this month.

Mr. Obama in December finalized an updated version of the landmark free-trade pact with South Korea that promised to boost the domestic automotive industry and support tens of thousands of American jobs. The deal would be the largest since the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico in 1994.

Mr. Obama had held out for almost two years on the Korean pact in an effort to strengthen the deal in the favor of U.S. auto industry.

The administration in April also announced it was moving forward with its deal with Colombia after it secured labor concessions from that country. But the president has held off sending the trade deals to Congress for ratification over a funding dispute for the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, a union-backed initiative that compensates workers affected by increased imports or shifts in production outside the U.S.

The Obama administration initially wanted to attach a TAA funding provision to the South Korean trade pact — a move opposed by Republicans.

The administration and congressional leaders now are negotiating a compromise that would allow Congress to vote on TAA funding separately from the trade pacts.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in our dealings with the Senate leaders, and hope and expect that that … process will be resolved and we’ll get this done,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday.

“We definitely agree that passing those trade bills and making sure we have a process that allows for [them] and the TAA to go forward will be very beneficial to the economy.”