- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and other free-trade advocates held a rally Tuesday at the Republican National Convention, extolling the benefits of international trade and calling on Congress to ratify free-trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea.

The rally, sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), capped the Arlington trade group’s 28-state “America Wins with Trade” bus tour, which began in New York City in July and made a pit stop at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last week.

“The rally highlights the importance of the free-trade agreements, which the Congress seems not to want to put up to a vote at a time when the trade sector is contributing so much growth to the U.S. economy,” Mr. Gutierrez told The Washington Times.

“Several dozen Democrats want to get this done,” said Mr. Gutierrez, referring to the Colombian deal, “but they don’t want to go up against Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi,” who has been preventing a floor vote on the pact.

Brendan Daly, a spokesman for the speaker, said Congress would have to pass a second economic stimulus package and expand a program to help workers who lose their jobs to trade before the speaker would consider allowing a vote on the Colombian agreement.

In the 651 days since the Colombian trade deal was signed, U.S. businesses have paid $1.2 billion in import duties, which the deal would mostly abolish, Mr. Gutierrez said.

The CEA released a Zogby International survey that showed 69 percent of Americans said they “benefited personally from overseas trade.”

“It’s time for Congress to listen to the American people and do what’s right for our economy” by passing the pending free-trade agreements, said CEA President Gary Shapiro. He said he hoped Mrs. Pelosi would hold a vote on the Colombia deal before the end of the year.

Trade has become a major issue in the presidential campaign. Sen. Barack Obama, who accepted the Democratic nomination last week, opposes the free-trade agreements that President Bush negotiated with Colombia and South Korea. Sen. John McCain, who will become the official Republican nominee Thursday, supports both agreements.

Mr. Obama has pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the 15-year-old trade deal with Canada and Mexico that Congress approved in 1993 following President Clinton’s endorsement. Mr. McCain calls himself an “unashamed and unabashed defender” of NAFTA.

The Zogby results conflict with other recent polls on trade. In June, when the U.S. economy lost jobs for the sixth month in a row, a CNN/Opinion Research poll found for the first time in the survey’s history that a majority of Americans believe that free trade threatens the U.S. economy. In April, a Pew Research Center survey revealed that 61 percent of Americans believe that free trade leads to job losses, up from 48 percent in December 2006.

“The highly productive, highly rewarding manufacturing sector should be larger than it is,” said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the labor-friendly Economic Policy Institute, who noted that manufacturing as a share of the U.S. economy is the lowest it has ever been.

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