Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday urged Congress to pass three stalled trade deals before its summer recess, calling the agreements vital to U.S. economic and strategic interests.
“I know two things about trade: It is a polarizing political issue, but done right, it creates American jobs,” Mrs. Clinton said at a conference of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
President George W. Bush signed free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, but the deals have languished in Congress amid concerns that they could cost U.S. jobs.
Mrs. Clinton, who herself called for a “time-out on trade” as a presidential candidate in 2007, rejected such concerns.
“While our economic competitors are signing bilateral trade deals with countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, the three trade deals now working their way through Congress have the potential to create tens of thousands of new American jobs,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton cited projections that the U.S.-Korea trade deal would grow the American economy by more than $10 billion a year.
She also said the trade deal with Colombia would allow U.S. products to enter the Latin American country duty free, as Colombian products have done in the U.S. for years. Most U.S. goods also would enter Panama duty free instead of facing tariffs as high as 81 percent, she added.
“Passing these deals is critical to our economic recovery,” Mrs. Clinton said. “But the stakes are not just economic. These nations are three important partners in strategically vital areas. Countries everywhere are watching to see whether America will deliver for our friends and allies.”
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a speech Tuesday that he is confident Congress will approve the pacts by August, though he said the White House is still coordinating with congressional leaders on the timing of the votes.
“We need to pass these agreements and put them in place,” Mr. Kirk said. “We’re ready to go now.”
The Obama administration wants the deals to be tied to the passage of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program that would help American workers displaced by free trade deals. Republicans have rejected the linkage.
“I have made it clear to the president and the White House that TAA should move on its own,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said at a news conference Friday. “We expect in the House to move four separate bills, and I would hope they would heed our advice.”
On Monday, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, called for a meeting between members of both chambers to resolve differences.