UNITED STATES-OMAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT -- (Senate - June 29, 2006)
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Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, the Oman Free Trade Agreement is not a threat to American workers, and it could help us build better relations in the Middle East. I believe that the administration has handled its relationship with Congress on this agreement poorly, but our foreign policy interests in the region require greater engagement with it. For this reason, I am voting for this agreement.
The economics of the agreement are negligible. U.S. exports entering Oman today face tariffs that this agreement will remove. As a result, American sales to that country will increase by about 14 percent, or $41 million. This increase is a very small share of U.S. exports to the world--less than .05 percent--making the effect on U.S. output and employment minimal. On the import side, according to the International Trade Commission, ``the expected changes in U.S. trade with Oman . . . would likely be very small and, therefore, have almost no effect on U.S. imports, employment, or welfare.'' In other words, imports would be so small that they don't even register.
Because the economic impact on the United States is not a compelling factor, I believe that we must base our vote on the kind of message it sends about our approach to trade generally and the potential effects of trade agreements on our foreign policy. In general, I believe that more trade between the U.S. and other countries is good. It helps build constructive political relationships and can create wealth both here and abroad. And I would like to see us build better relationships with countries like Oman and its neighbors.
I have been informed by the State Department that Oman has been a valuable partner for the United States in a volatile part of the world. I will not take the time to list all of the areas of cooperation between our two governments, but this relationship is important and is the main reason I am voting for this agreement today. I believe we have a strategic interest in working to enhance our relationships with friendly governments in the region.
I should also point out that Oman, with respect to the Arab world, is forward leaning on a range of economic and political issues, including women's suffrage. This is not to gloss over some of the problems in Oman, including restrictions on the press and a lack of a free and independent judiciary; one only needs to look at the State Department's Human Rights Report to know that there is room for improvement. With this vote, I want to send a signal to the government of Oman that we respect the progress it is making, but expect that there is much more to come.
I would caution the administration, however, not to take for granted Congress' support for trade agreements. We give the President streamlined authority to negotiate trade agreements and send them to Congress to make it easier for Presidents to conclude negotiations. We do that to encourage trade. But that does not mean that he can or should ignore this co-equal branch of government.
The Senate Finance Committee specifically directed the administration to exclude from the Oman agreement goods that were produced with slave labor or benefited from human trafficking. The administration refused to do so. That sends a loud message to Congress that the administration believes fast track authority is the authority to ignore Congress. It is not, and I caution the President that such an approach to trade policy will lead to the death of Trade Promotion Authority and a wave of protectionist policies.
I support this agreement because I believe in the potential of the Middle East and our responsibility to engage and build partnerships in the region.
But I will continue to work to make trade agreements better for workers and the environment as we move forward with the Nation's trade agenda.
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