- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

President Bush yesterday continued to work toward the recovery of the U.S. economy, signing free-trade agreements with Singapore and Chile to remove barriers and open lucrative foreign markets to American farmers and manufacturers.

Critics, however, have said those agreements could entice companies to relocate U.S. jobs to cheaper labor markets.

The agreements — the first U.S. free-trade pacts with countries in Asia and South America, both which take effect Jan. 1, 2004 — will promote economic growth, reduce prices for consumers and create manufacturing jobs by eliminating barriers to trade, the president said.

“We support free trade in America because it is vital to the creation of jobs,” Mr. Bush said in an East Room signing ceremony. “It’s vital to the success of our economy. Exports accounted for roughly one quarter — one quarter — of our economy’s growth in the 1990s.”

Congress narrowly passed trade-promotion authority last year, which has been sought by every president for more than 20 years.

The trade agreement with Chile — which does $8.8 billion in bilateral trade with the United States — will benefit American agriculture and construction-equipment businesses, along with manufacturers of autos and auto parts, computers, medical equipment and paper products by removing costly tariffs.

“American-made heavy machinery, such as a motor grader, costs $11,220 more in Chile because of extra tariffs,” Mr. Bush said. “If that machinery were made in Canada or the European Union, it would carry no tariff. Our trade agreement with Chile will eliminate these kinds of tariffs and our manufacturers will be able to compete on a level playing field.”

Removal of such tariffs benefits Americans because “as we sell that heavy equipment into Chile, somebody is more likely to find work in America in a good, high-paying job,” he said.

The free-trade pact with Singapore — America’s 12th-largest trading partner with two-way transactions worth about $40 billion annually — will help producers of computers and agricultural products.

The agreement contains what the president called “state-of-the-art protections for Internet commerce and intellectual property that will help drive growth and innovation in our technology sectors.” The measures will protect U.S. copyrights and entertainment-industry companies.

“Free trade also serves the interests of the United States. It serves in the interest of our workers,” he said. “Chile and Singapore are examples of economic liberty and demonstrate the great promise of trade.”

Under the free-trade deal with Chile, more than 85 percent of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products would become tariff-free immediately, with most remaining tariffs eliminated within four years. American farmers would gain duty-free treatment within four years for most of their products.

Singapore and the United States already have a nearly tariff-free relationship, but the agreement is important in such areas as erecting strong deterrence against intellectual-property piracy and counterfeiting.

Congress in July approved both pacts by wide bipartisan margins, which gave the White House the authority for the first time in eight years to negotiate agreements that it can submit to Congress for an up-or-down vote without any changes.

The Bush administration said it hopes to conclude additional free-trade agreements with Australia, Morocco and five countries in Central America by the end of the year.

“Soon we will begin negotiations with Bahrain and the Dominican Republic,” Mr. Bush said. “We’re working with 33 other nations in our hemisphere to create the Free trade Area of the Americas.”

The East Room signing ceremony was attended by the ambassadors of Chile and Singapore, along with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, as well as members of Congress.

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